Monday, April 24, 2017

Hundreds of Faith Leaders to Hold March Urging Congress to Reject Trump’s Immoral Budget Proposal

Prominent ecumenical coalition call on House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
 to protect the vulnerable

Washington, D.C.—Hundreds of clergy and lay leaders from across the country will gather for a prayer vigil in front of the United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Ave., NE, at 12 p.m. on Monday, April 24th, to urge Congress to reject President Trump’s sinful and immoral federal budget proposal, which makes deeply destructive cuts to programs that address human needs in order to increase Pentagon spending.

Following the vigil, clergy will march to the Hart Senate Building, where they will kneel and pray in the atrium to draw attention to the magnitude of the harm this budget will cause vulnerable populations in our nation.

The Christian clergy and lay leaders participating in the march are in the nation’s capital for the Lobby Day of the 2017 Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice. Close to 1,000 Christians will participate in the EAD conference over the weekend, which is organized around the theme, “Confronting Chaos, Forging Community: Challenging Racism, Materialism and Militarism.” 

In the Christian tradition of fasting to petition God to respond to dire circumstances, Ecumenical Advocacy Days participants will fast from sunup to sundown on April 24.

Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, an organizer for Monday’s public witness event, remarked, “The extreme nature of this proposed budget, which would cut funding for programs that help children, the elderly, those who have disabilities, and those protecting God’s creation, to build walls and tanks that we don’t need is sinful and immoral. It goes against our beliefs and values. We reject it. We say no to it. In fact, we say hell no to this sinful budget that would hurt the most vulnerable people in our nation!”

Doug Grace, Director of Ecumenical Advocacy Days,said, “It’s important for us to send a strong message to Congress and the President that this budget is immoral, and we will do all we can to oppose it. We will not be silent or stand idly by while those most in need are harmed. We will not watch as families are ripped apart through mass deportations and our air and water are polluted because of corporate greed and deregulation.”

Monday, April 24th, at 12 p.m.

United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Ave., NE
Washington, D.C. 20002

Rev. Dr. Susan Henry Crowe,
 General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Church
Rev. Traci Blackmon,
 Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
Rev. Jimmie Hawkins,
Director, Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esq.,
 Associate General Secretary for Justice and Peace, National Council of Churches of Christ USA
Dr. Patrick Carolan,
Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network
Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune,
 Director, Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
Mr. Douglas Grace,
 Director, Ecumenical Advocacy Days
Rev. Noel Anderson,
 National Grassroots Coordinator, Church World Service
Bishop Jose Garcia,
 Senior Advisor for Prayer and Special Initiatives, Bread for the World
Rev. Dr. Timothy D. Boddie,
 General Secretary, Progressive National Baptist Convention


Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community, and its more than 50 recognized partners
 and allies, grounded in biblical witness and shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, EAD’s goal is to strengthen Christians’ voice and to mobilize

 for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues.

Monday, April 10, 2017

7 things you should know about the 2017 DHS immigration enforcement guidelines

By Ray Chen, Emerson National Hunger Fellow at the Office of Public Witness

On February 20, 2017, DHS Secretary John Kelly issued two memoranda [1, 2] that guides DHS offices and personnel on how the department will fulfill the executive orders President Trump signed earlier in January [1, 2]. The memos detail a radical departure from more community-friendly guidelines that were adopted towards the end of the Obama administration. Generally, there will be much stricter immigration enforcement and subsequent expansion of the immigration system. It is still unclear as to how these memos will affect immigration enforcement on the ground, but they provide us with general trends we need to be aware of.

1. These memos rescind all previous DHS guidelines except the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans memos, including the memo that enforce sensitive locations, which grant churches a layer of protection when providing sanctuary,­­ and memos that protect vulnerable populations.

All conflicting DHS guidelines were rescinded except for the 2012 DACA memorandum and the Nov 2014 DACA+/DAPA memorandum, which allow deferred action and work authorization for undocumented people who enter the country as minors and parents of US citizens or lawful permanent residents.

However, it is unclear what this will look in practice, but some clues offer us some insight on the following guidelines:
      Enforcement actions at sensitive locations. The sensitive location memo instructs ICE officers to avoid enforcement activity at places of worship, schools, medical facilities, religious or civil ceremonies, and public demonstrations. The memo protects the people who are housed in places of worship in the Sanctuary Movement. This guideline is currently still up on the DHS FAQ page. However, this may be only temporary, and it is important to note that there have been reports of enforcement actions adjacent to these sensitive locations (i.e. on public road next to a school).
      Protection for victims or witnesses of crime. On Tuesday, Apr 5, DHS spokesperson says that witnesses or victims of crime are not immune to deportation (the Hill). This can lead to decreased public safety, as undocumented people will be less likely to report crime.
      Protection for other vulnerable populations. Previous guidelines have deemed certain groups of people as not an enforcement priority for humanitarian reasons, such as primary caregivers of children, individuals with serious mental disabilities or physical illness, and pregnant and nursing mothers. However, the memo that allows for this flexibility was specifically named to be revoked in the new memos.

2. These memos end “catch and release,” which allowed undocumented people without criminal records to not be detained, and restrict exemptions from detention to a very few people, greatly increasing the population targeted for detention.

These memos specifically called for an end to “catch and release,” which loosely describes the practice of not detaining undocumented people unless if they meet certain criteria for priority removal such as having been convicted of a felony or being a gang member.

With these new guidelines, the only people exempted from detention are: People who are being removed from the US; People granted relief from removal or with valid immigration status in the US; People who withdraw an application for admission voluntarily and leave the US; People required to be released by statute, judicial order, or a binding settlement agreement; People granted parole under the DHS; People who an asylum officer finds has a “credible fear” of persecution or torture, pose no security risk, and agree to comply with any additional conditions of release.

Very few people fit the above criteria, and there would need to be massive expansion of detention facility and personnel to make these detentions a reality. The guidelines vaguely state that ”detention resources should be prioritized based upon potential danger and risk of flight.” The memos also specifically name a restriction on the use of parole, adding that parole can only be granted in “demonstrated urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefits.” Further regulations that clarify the use of parole power is expected.

3. These memos expand the definition of who is considered criminal, thus prioritizing the removal of virtually all undocumented people.

These memos rescind the Priority Enforcement Program, which restricted the criminal offenses that are prioritized for removal, and returns to the Secure Communities Program. Furthermore, it expands the department’s enforcement priorities to also people who have been
      convicted or charged with any criminal offense,
      committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,
      engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation,
      have abused any public benefits programs,
      have a final order of removal, or,
      as deemed by an immigration officer, poses a risk to public safety or national security.

These criteria are broad and ambiguous, and can cover petty offenses such as jaywalking or even simply “improper entry by alien.” There is also a specific focus on immigration offenses committed at the southern border.

4. These memos restrict prosecutorial discretion and expand expedited removal so that more people are deported without due process of law.

In contrast to previous guidelines that encouraged prosecutorial discretion for vulnerable groups, these memos say that “shall not be exercised in a manner that exempts or excludes a specific class or category of aliens from enforcement of the immigration.” The General Counsel will issue further guidance on what this will look like in practice.

Furthermore, there is an expansion of the use of Expedited Removal that allows for the removal of arriving undocumented people at the discretion of immigration officers, without further judicial hearings or review. Before the memo, expedited removal had only been used within 100 air miles of the border for people who have only been in the US for less than 14 days and people arriving to the US by sea other than at a port of entry. This memo seeks to enforce removal without further hearings or review for anyone who cannot prove that they have been continuously present in the US for at least two years. The specific guidance has not yet been developed, and will be published in the Federal Register.

5. These memos call for increased state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

Under the Priority Enforcement Program that has now been dismantled, there has been a shift away from state and local law enforcement agencies assisting in the enforcement of federal immigration law. Returning to the Secure Communities program, local and state enforcement can detain an undocumented individual for up to 48 hours additional hours so that ICE officers can apprehend the person, regardless of the type of crime the person had been charged for. Many civil rights groups have criticized this hold as unconstitutional detention.

Furthermore, the memo calls for the expansion of the 287(g) program in the border region, which allow for written agreements between state and local governments to authorize their law enforcement agencies to perform the functions of a federal immigration officer. The 287(g) program had been restricted after it came under criticism for encouraging racial profiling behaviors from local law enforcement and putting communities in dangers as a result of fewer crimes being reported for fear of deportation.

The memo also calls for the expansion of the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), which is facilitated by increased state and local cooperation. CAP focuses on expediting securing a final order of removal for undocumented people who are incarcerated so that the person is deported without even being taken into ICE custody.

6. These memos call for the expansion of detention facilities & enforcement staff.

To implement the above policies, the memos call for the hiring of an additional 10,000 ICE agents and other associated operational, mission support, and legal staff, 5,000 additional border patrol agents, and 500 air and marine agents or officers. The memos also call for resources to be allocated to expanding detention capabilities and building a border wall. Congress will have to allocate enough funds in the federal budget to the DHS for the department to make this expansion a reality.

7. These memos create mechanisms to reinforce the narrative of the “criminal alien.”

Most ostentatiously, the memos establish the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which will ensure that victims of crimes committed by undocumented people and the victims’ families have information about the offender. Furthermore, the memos call for a monthly report of data on alien apprehensions and releases that include “country of citizenship, convicted criminals and the nature of their offenses, gang members, prior immigration violators, custody status of aliens, and if release, the reason for release and location of their release, aliens ordered removed, and aliens physically removed or returned.” The memos also calls for a weekly report to the public of non-federal jurisdictions that release aliens from their custody, particularly spotlighting cities that have adopted “sanctuary” policies and do not fully cooperate with ICE officers.

In contrast to prior protocol, the memo declares that the Privacy Act as now only covering US citizens and lawful permanent residents, thus facilitating the release of personal identifiable information to the public by these regular reports and the VOICE office. Under the guise of transparency and accountability, the department is releasing information that can be used as fodder to feed the growing hysteria around “criminal aliens.”

The memos also cover other policy changes, such as ones to collect authorized civil fines and penalties from undocumented people and those who facilitate their presence, to return arriving unauthorized migrants to the contiguous country while they wait for their removal proceedings, regardless of their country of origin, and to change the definition of who qualifies as an unaccompanied minor.

Overall, these memos show that this administration seeks to greatly expand immigration enforcement, and that any undocumented person can be targeted for removal. However, it is unclear how these policies will actually look in practice. It is important to continue watching out for new guidelines that more specifically describe how these policies look on the ground.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Executive Order on Climate Threatens God's Creation

The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness Raises Grave Concern Over Rollbacks of Climate Protections

March 30, 2017 
Washington D.C.- On Tuesday March 29, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that will nullify the Obama administration’s efforts to curb global warming.  Although it is not a formal withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, this order forecloses on the possibility of the US meeting the 2015 commitment to roll back emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Our concern as Presbyterians lies not only in our mandate to protect God’s creation, but in the knowledge that the ruins wrought by climate change will fall disproportionately on the backs of the poor, indigenous, and citizens of the Global South.

President Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to start the complex and lengthy legal process of unraveling and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms. It was projected to prevent nearly 3,000 premature deaths and almost 100,000 asthma attacks per year by 2030. Every child has the right to a pollution free environment and we have a moral obligation to protect God’s gift of air for our children and grandchildren.  Beyond the Clean Power Plan, Trump’s order prioritizes the development of domestic coal, oil and natural gas reserves over renewable energy sources and opens federal land to coal leases.

Office of Public Witness Director, Rev. Jimmie Hawkins remarked:

The President’s Executive Order on climate change is a tragic turn for the future of this nation and for the entire planet. By this one stroke of his pen, the president has rescinded the Coal Mining Moratorium on US federal lands and substantially weakened a number of environmental protections. His signature threatens the health of children already suffering with respiratory illness, endangers seniors living in environments already polluted by industrial waste and places at risk the well-being of every living person the world around. As people of faith who believe in a God of creation who commands good and proper stewardship of this gift, we must speak with one voice that this world is worth protecting. We affirm that climate change is real and impacted by the actions of human beings. We can protect the environment and affirm the dignity of work as we come together to produce solutions which enhance all aspects of created life . But environmental justice must be a priority or we will not have a future to work towards. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,… and God saw that it was good.” (Gen 1:1; 10b)

Legal experts say it could take years for the E.P.A. administrator to carry out the process of withdrawing and revising the climate change regulations, and the process will be hit by legal challenges at every turn. More than anything, this executive order is a signal by the Trump administration that they do not intend to take seriously the threat of climate change.

The primary motivation for the order, according to the Trump Administration is to bring jobs back to coal country. As Presbyterians, we have deep care and consideration for families who rely on extractive industries for their livelihood. But the reality is that markets are already shifting to favor investment in renewable energy and this political measure is unlikely to reverse the decline of the coal industry.

In difficult times, we refer back to a report entitled “The Power to Change” Approved by the 218th General Assembly:

The challenge we face is daunting. The temptation to despair is real. Only God can give us the power to change. Our Reformed tradition reminds us that it is God who created the earth and saw that it was good, God who sustains the earth and seeks to hold its processes together, God who judges sin and greed, and God who reveals in Jesus Christ that love and justice are the essence of God’s power. God is the inexhaustible source of energy for personal, social, and ecological transformation. Although we are complicit in the evils we face, we can repent of our own sinful misuse and abuse of the Earth as we confess our sins. As recipients of God’s endless mercy, this redemptive energy frees and empowers us to be good stewards of God’s creation.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Webinar: Update on the Korean Peninsula

Please join us for our upcoming webinar:

Update on the Korean Peninsula
Thursday, March 30th
1-2 pm

Click here to register.

Tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula.  With the testing of missiles by North Korea and the deployment of an anti missile defense system by the United States and South Korea, it is more important than ever for there to be rational voices advocating for peacebuilding and peacemaking.  Join this webinar to hear the perspectives from our partners on the ground in South Korea, learn from our World Mission Area Coordinator for Asia about the history of partnership on the Korean Peninsula, and get up to date insights into the current politics of the situation in Congress and the Administration from policy experts in DC.

Learn what you can do to work for peace and reconciliation and support our partners on the ground in the Korean Peninsula.

Speakers include:

Mienda Uriarte
Area Coordinator for Asia
World Mission, PCUSA

Dan Jasper
Advocacy Coordinator for Asia
American Friends Service Committee

Catherine Gordon
Representative for International Issues
Office of Public Witness, PCUSA

And a special video presentation from

Dr. Kiho Yi
Professor of Political Theory, Hanshin University
Member of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK)
Member of the Reconciliation and Unification Committee of the National Council of Churches of Korea

 Click here to register.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Faith Groups join Indigenous People at the Native Nations Rise March on Washington to Demand Indigenous Sovereignty and Environmental Justice

By Ray Chen, Emerson National Hunger Fellow at the Office of Public Witness

Washington D.C. - Friday morning, March 10, indigenous people from across the world gathered to fight for indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice in the Native Nations Rise march. They were joined by allies of the movement, which included clergy and faith-based groups including the Office of Public Witness. This multi-day demonstration was organized by the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and other grassroots indigenous leaders. It is a part of the movement that stems from the struggle at Standing Rock to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, but has now “evolved into a powerful global phenomenon highlight the necessity to respect Indigenous Nations and their right to protect their homelands, environment, and future generations.” In particular, this demonstration follows on the heels of a presidential memorandum sent to the Secretary of the Army to continue the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the destruction the protest camps set-up by the Standing Rock Sioux and Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies. In addition to the actual march Friday morning, indigenous leaders also set-up a symbolic tipi camp on the National Mall from Tuesday to Friday.

Faith leaders gathered before the march to build community and stay out of the biting cold. There were delegations of faith leaders from across the country, as far as Seattle, indigenous and non-indigenous. In an address to the audience, Rev. John Floburg from The Episcopal Church in Bismark called upon the faith community to stand in active solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters in the fight for Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice. He mentioned that though he had observed general wariness from Native people towards Christians due to role of churches in the subjugation and domination of Native people, he has seen now more of an openness towards Christians as a result of Christians showing up and standing with Native people in the struggle in Standing Rock.

Faith groups joined the march at 10 AM, which started outside the headquarters of the Army Corps of Engineers. This site was important because the Army Corps continue to sanction the drilling of the dangerous oil pipeline despite the protest of thousands of people. Indigenous people wore both traditional and non-traditional dress, with signs and banners that proclaimed the existence of the first peoples of Turtle Island and their resistance to the current government efforts’ to deny their sovereignty. Representing hundreds of nations, many wore their tribal flags banners across their shoulders. Despite the cold and the sleet coming down, the tone of the crowd was celebratory but vigilant, with chanting and drums resounding throughout the streets and the smell of burning sage following the crowd. The procession stopped next at Trump Towers, outside of which demonstrators set-up a tipi and led a circle dance around it, symbolically reclaiming the land as Native land.

The march ended in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, with speeches from tribal leaders and representatives, as well as performance from indigenous artists. Specifically, Chairman David Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation Tribal Council called for the repudiation of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery that grew out of Papal decrees in the 1400s and sanctioned widespread European domination in the following centuries in the Americas and beyond. The Doctrine of Discovery was codified into American policy through Johnson v. McIntosh (1823) and many other court cases that proclaimed the US government as an inheritor of the European Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and thus having complete dominion over any Indigenous people. Archambault specifically asked for Pope Francis to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery as part of the fight to recognize indigenous sovereignty. In 2016, the General Assembly of PC(USA) joined a growing list of denominations which have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. There was a call for the church go to beyond the framework for reconciliation to adopt the framework of repair that rectifies historic and modern injustices faced by Native people. This was only the first step in the long process of healing that Presbyterians need to undertake.

Reflecting on the event, Office of Public Witness Director Rev. Jimmie Hawkins remarked, “The OPW and the PC(USA) marched in full support of indigenous peoples and their sovereignty. From the site of the pipeline to the halls of power, we stand in solidarity with water protectors at Standing Rock and the broader movement they’ve ignited for indigenous land and water rights. It was indeed powerful to be with so many Presbyterians who came from all over the country, both native and non-native, to assert the treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux.”


Similar demonstrations happened all across the US on Friday in solidarity with the Native March on Washington. Organizers of the Native Nation Rise march has hope that this march is only the beginning of the mass mobilization of Indigenous people and their allies.