Friday, June 28, 2013

Read Jubilee's Backgrounder on President Obama's Visit to Africa as Corporate Tax Avoidance and Debt Crisis Trap Millions of Africans in Poverty

June 28, 2013
President Obama Visits Africa as Corporate Tax Avoidance and Debt Crisis Trap Millions of Africans in Poverty
Faith Community Prays Trip will Focus on Poverty
WASHINGTON, DC - President Obama is traveling to the African nations of Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa from June 26-July 3 See Jubilee USA's Director's press statement below and read Jubilee's recommendations to the President and backgrounder here.
Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network, a faith-based antipoverty organization, releases the following statement:
"It's an incredibly exciting moment as the President and First Lady visit Africa after the momentum of the G8 meeting that focused on corporate tax avoidance and poverty.  We hope the President will use the trip to focus on corporations avoiding taxes in Africa.  Corporate tax avoidance in much of sub-Saharan Africa amounts to a theft from the poor.
"The faith community prays that the President will shine a light on the debt crisis that is keeping millions of people poor across the continent."
Read Jubilee USA's recommendations here.
Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 US organizations, 250 faith communities and 50 Jubilee global partners working. Jubilee's mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes participation of the most vulnerable. Jubilee USA has won critical global financial reforms and more than $130 billion in debt relief to benefit the world's poorest people.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Coming up: Immigration Bills in the House

Tomorrow, the House judiciary committee will markup H.R. 2131 the Supplying Knowledge-based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act (SKILLS Visa Act) and H.R. 1772 the Legal Workforce Act. Both of these bills are piecemeal approaches to immigration reform and address only certain aspects of our immigration system. If they pass out of the committee they would stand to be debated by the full House floor. 

Our General Assembly policy calls for immigration reform that preserves family unity. As people of faith we recognize the importance of having healthy families that are united. Not only do families promote the integration of migrants into society and create healthy, viable communities but they also increase participation in our economy. Today's push for immigration reform has highlighted the pain and suffering caused by the separation of families and the need to create legal avenues for families to stay together, not drive them apart. The SKILLS Visa Act is written to help U.S. employers hire immigrants in high-tech industries but it does so by reducing family-based visas over time, thus making the legal immigration system less accessible for U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents who are trying to reunite with their close family members. The bill would abolish the opportunity for U.S. citizens to have their brothers or sisters join them in the United States and it would prevent any siblings with approved petitions who have been waiting years to join their family members from entering the country.

Our General Assembly also calls for the protection of workers and for employment laws that protect the right to organize and seek redress for grievances. The Legal Workforce Act mandates the use of an electronic employment eligibility verification system (EEVS) by every employer in the U.S. within 2 years. The bill increases penalties for employers who knowingly hire or employ unauthorized workers and there are limited remedies for workers who may be fired due to an error in the EEVS. The bill would also allow for employers to condition a job offer on a worker’s final verification by the EEVS and limits the documents that may be used to prove employment eligibility and identity.

What happened last week in the House?

Despite the hundreds of calls made by the faith community, the House passed the SAFE Act out of the judiciary committee last week. The SAFE Act’s focus is to expand immigration enforcement and detention. If enacted it will lead to the expansion of racial profiling, unconstitutional arrests, and mass detention and deportations. House leaders Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) can now decide not to bring the SAFE Act up for a vote in the House.

The House judiciary committee also passed, Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guest Worker bill. The bill would create a new agricultural guest worker program without an opportunity for undocumented farmworkers to earn immigration status or citizenship. Current undocumented farmworkers and their families would be expected to self deport. Farmworkers would be allowed to return to the U.S. if an employer sponsors them for a temporary work visa but they would not be allowed to bring family members. The bill would limit worker access to judicial relief and legal assistance to protect their few rights and would also eliminate the 50% rule, which requires employers to hire qualified U.S. workers who apply for work during the first half of the season.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Only a Checkpoint Marks the Difference

Read this reflection about the Southern border written by Melissa G. Davis, coordinator of the Office of Immigration Issues for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as the Senate debates the Corker-Hoeden amendment, which doubles down on unnecessary and excessive border militarization provisions.

The border is not this inanimate object. It is not a place that indicates the end of one thing and the beginning of another. My observation is probably laughable to the hundred or so people I met while visiting the border region of Arizona last month. Particularly to the woman I saw carrying a birthday cake and small blue tricycle through the checkpoint and into Mexico. The border, and border life, is fluid. It is a space more than a place. It represents a way of life, a way of being, and most importantly, a way of thinking. To think of the border as an object sanitizes it of its life and ignores the people shaped by the border land and culture.

I realized how fluid the border is and my own privilege as a result of my white skin and U.S. passport when my colleague and I were leaving Mexico one. We were exhausted and distracted by our talking and laughing. We knew our hotel was close and followed the migratory pattern established that morning. Unfortunately, we were attempting to leave Mexico via the entry point, not the exit. We were stopped by two Custom and Border Patrol agents, who lightly and humorously scolded us then let us pass. Our hotel was so close that we had momentarily forgotten that we had to get “there.” Only the checkpoint acknowledged the difference between here and there, the sights, the smells, the air – it all felt the same.

On another occasion, I stood with my colleagues at a checkpoint waiting to reenter the U.S. and a man pointed out how the barrier altered a centuries old street. It was clear that the checkpoint was built on an existing road, cutting one end from the other. The longer we waited the more stories he told. He pointed out a building on our right that was charred from a recent fire. He shared with us how fire trucks from the U.S. got as close to the barrier as possible and then shot water over the checkpoint to help extinguish the flames. There was a tremendous amount of commerce and community building taking place at this barrier. Many U.S. citizens I met traveled to Mexico for dental work and to have their prescriptions filled for a fraction of the cost in the U.S.

Bipartisan immigration reform legislation has been proposed and it has sparked an immigration debate. Our country is having this debate in sound bites. This creates, usually, a false and simplistic view of a complex policy and it leads the American public to believe that our options are few. As a result this debate has focused on only two aspects of reform: a legalization program for people already living and working in the U.S. and border maintenance. It is further believed that these two things are in tension with one another. Politicians and the public are therefore forced to make this false choice between “securing” the border or providing a pathway out of the shadows for families who have already given so much to this country.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church has policy on immigration reformthat calls for comprehensive reform of our nation’s immigration laws. This policy
advocates for a pathway to citizenship for the millions of people already living and working in the U.S. and opposes the militarization of our southern border. The General Assembly, in its wisdom, recognizes that we can have safe and humane border policy in line with the values of America AND provide a pathway to citizenship.

As I shared this policy with Presbyterians in Arizona, I kept hearing from border people about the necessity of not throwing the border under the bus in an effort to secure legalization. They shared their concerns about the proposed legislation, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (SB744) and the additional funds that are to be used for fencing, drones, agents, and other equipment that, they believe, will not increase their safety but further militarize their lives. People living in the border area understand that the rest of the country is willing to have them bear the burden of reform for all of us. Until my visit with them I did not fully understand what was being asked of them.

The immigration reform legislation, SB744, made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee relatively unscathed, for better and for worse. The legislation is clearly a product of negotiation, but we should not blindly accept it. People of faith should remember that this legislation was written by politicians with political aspirations and re-election treasure chests that are never quite full enough. Our faith calls us to justice, not to compromise.

Soon the legislation will be debated on the full Senate floor. In response, a group of Republicans have circulated a dear colleague letter that makes clear their intention to continue the effort to militarize the border, even at the expense of a workable legalization plan. It is going to be a long summer and Presbyterians must remain vigilant and engaged in the process where our values will be traded for votes.

We are to become advocates, witnesses to the biblical mandate to do justice. While government is created by God and therefore good for us, we also recognize that it too is fallen and in need of redemption. Christians do not submit to the powers and the government blindly, but have responsibility to ensure that the laws that govern our lives together reflect our values.

As people of faith, we have the privilege and responsibility to stand in solidarity with the parts of the body that suffer and to suffer with them. This space, and the people who populate it, are suffering and we cannot ask them to suffer more on our behalf. The long lines at check points that keep birthday girls waiting, the racial profiling that privileges some, the normalizing of surveillance and loss of due process, and most importantly, the loss of life has created untold sorrow. We can bring commonsense to this debate and move beyond sound bites. Presbyterians working locally help communities understand the effects of our broken immigration system and the opportunities to become involved in this movement.

The effects of a border policy that ignores due process and human dignity may feel a world away but these hurts and the suffering are born by all of us. The increase of equipment and military presence to this volatile region of the world is dangerous, putting federal agents and citizens at risk. In addition it threatens the culture of our southern borderlands.

This is not a zero sum game, we can have a just commonsense plan that provides for those present in the U.S. without authorization a pathway out of the shadows to a place of full recognition of their contributions and we can have a workable border maintenance plan that respects human dignity and American notions of due process, while protecting our nation from those who wish to do our country harm.

Learn about this space we call our southern border and its culture and join in the effort by contacting your Senators and urging them to not further build up the border region with equipment and agents. Ask them to not hang the hopes and dreams of millions on the politically created triggers and political aspirations of members of congress. Heed the call of those asking the American public to respect the culture of this space and not throw it and its people under the bus during this debate.

For more information on Presbyterians working at our southern border, contact Frontera de Cristo at

Learn to be an effective advocate by utilizing this resource from the office of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at justice/pdf/holy_discontentment_advocacy_resource_final.pdf.

The Southern Border Communities Coalition is working to amend SB744 in ways that increase efficiencies as opposed to simply further militarizing the border:

The Corker-Hoeven amendment!

At 5:30 p.m. today, the Senate will vote to replace the current version of SB744 with the Corker-Hoeven Amendment. It is expected that this vote will pass and the Corker-Hoeven Amendment will become the NEW reform legislation. Please see below for a summary of the changes. Advocates are feeling very torn about this because it militarizes our border, while tying legalization to those changes and expenditures. There are questions about how this build up will be paid for and estimates put the cost at $30Billion. 

This militarization of our borders is in opposition to GA policy. Further, GA policy calls for a full pathway to citizenship without "imposing punitive costs, wait times, or other irksome conditions." 

Please call your Senators and urge them to oppose the Corker-Hoeven Amendment and to support a comprehensive immigration plan that provides a pathway to citizenship without militarizing our border or making the pathway to citizenship contingent on border measures.

Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or find your Senators' direct lines at

Sample call script: "I am from [City, State, Congregation], and I support immigration reform. As a person of faith, I urge the Senator to OPPOSE the Corker-Hoeven amendment, by objecting to the substitution and calling for consideration of this amendment in regular order. 


This amendment would require the following before Registered Provisional Immigrants (RPIs) can obtain green cards:
  •  An unprecedented surge more than doubling the Border Patrol with an additional 20,000 agents along the southern border (there are currently a little over 21,000 agents, resulting in nearly a doubling of BP)
  •  $4.5 billion in specific technology and equipment operationalized along the southern border 
  • At least 700 miles of fencing completed along the southern border
  • Mandatory electronic visa entry/exit system implemented at all air and sea ports of entry to detect those who overstay visas
  • Mandatory employment-verification system used by all employers
  • Mandates initiation of removal proceedings for at least 90% of those who overstay visas 
The amendment would also prevent immigrants from getting Social Security credits for what they have already paid into the system using a social security number that was not issued to them; and restrict the Department of Health and Human Services from granting waivers to states to allow them to use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars to provide benefits to people in RPI status.

Rather than being considered as a separate amendment to the bill, the Corker-Hoeven amendment instead will be rolled into a substitute bill that includes all the provisions of the original immigration reform bill S. 744, as well as all of the amendments that have been added to the bill through the floor amendment process. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Support a Just Resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict!

Although the media tends to focus on violent incidents in Israel and Palestine, nonviolent actions for peacemaking occur daily with little fanfare.  As people of faith, it is our duty to help  raise the voices of both Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers against the ongoing acts of horrific violence and terror. Urge your members of Congress to seek a true resolution to the conflict, not just a swift action that will perpetuate the suffering of our sisters and brothers in the middle east.

If any peace agreement is to succeed, it must address core concerns of the conflict, including:

·         The cessation of systematic violation of human rights by any party, specifically,

practices of administrative detention, collective punishment, the torture of prisoners and suspects, home demolitions and evictions, and the deportation of dissidents.

·         The end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and diversion of water


·         The dismantling of the wall between the regions.

·         An immediate freeze both on the establishment or expansion of Israeli settlements in

the West Bank and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem.

·         A shared status for Jerusalem.

·         Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel.

Take action to end the violence and bring about genuine and lasting change in the Holy Land. Please ask your Members of Congress for a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I urge you to help raise the voices of Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers to seek a just and permanent resolution to the conflict, not just a swift action that will perpetuate the suffering of our sisters and brothers in the middle east.

To contact your members of Congress, click "Take action" or follow this link:

OPW Sends Letter to President Obama on Decision to Arm Syrian Rebels

June 21, 2013
Dear President Obama,

On May 6, 2013, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) urged your administration to exercise caution and wisdom in any response to reports of chemical weapons use in Syria.  Of particular concern to our church, and our Christian partners on the ground, is the potential for increased violence and widening of the conflict. 

The recent announcement by the Deputy National Security advisor that there is credible evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people is extremely disturbing.  However, further intervention from outside parties only increases the risk that the conflict in Syria will result in surging civilian deaths and even worse humanitarian conditions for the Syrian people.  

As you know, civilians are bearing the brunt of the fighting in Syria with nearly 93,000 killings documented through the end of April.  And, the United Nations has estimated that ten million Syrians will need aid by the end of this year - 3.45-million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, and 6.8 million people in Syria itself.    The current situation in Syria is fragile and complex with weapons  now accessible throughout  the country escalating violence and instability.

The 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) urged our government:

to support a mediated process of cessation of violence by all perpetrators, including the Assad regime and armed opposition groups;
   to call for all outside parties to cease all forms of intervention in Syria;
  to support a strong and necessary role for the United Nations, possibly including observers and peacekeeping forces; and
  to refrain from military intervention in Syria.

In keeping with this action of the General  Assembly, I urge you to use extreme caution in implementing policies that might escalate the conflict.   I further urge you to work with the United Nations and other governments to contain the violence, restore stability in the region, provide humanitarian assistance, and encourage the building of an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens.

The tragedy that is unfolding on the ground in Syria is heartbreaking and the cohesion of the Syrian social fabric is essential for the stability of the entire region.  Syria urgently needs a political solution that ends the fighting and creates a future for all Syrians.   It is only through nonviolent means that we can hope for radical change that leads to a just peace.

In his name,

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson
Director, Office of Public Witness
Presbyterian Church (USA)