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Rev. Peter Morales Headshot

Immigration in Arizona, One Year Later

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I am about to go on trial in Phoenix. One year ago, I was arrested during an act of nonviolent civil disobedience to speak out against anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona. Side by side with local activists and fellow Unitarian Universalists from across the nation, I was protesting Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's sweeps through Latino neighborhoods. It was July 29, 2010, the day Arizona's infamous SB 1070 went into effect.

Exactly one year later, on July 29, I return to stand trial. Let me be clear: the worst I will face pales in comparison to the hardships borne by so many others. Those who find themselves caught in the wrath of Sheriff Arpaio struggle as their families and their lives are torn apart.

As president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I am a religious leader, not a political one. For me, joining the protest and being arrested along with fellow ministers, lay people, and local community activists was an act of religious witness. It was an affirmation of our common humanity and a spotlight on acts by law enforcement officials that marginalize and dehumanize our neighbors. These actions -- terrifying raids into private homes and racial profiling among them -- do not speak to humane immigration reform. They do nothing more than break our communities apart, person by person.

One of the slogans used in the struggle for immigrant rights is "Todos somos Arizona" ("We are all Arizona"). That phrase takes on new meaning as 10 other states either have passed or are actively considering passing copycat anti-immigrant legislation. Meanwhile, states like New York and Massachusetts are pulling back on their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The conflict in Arizona rages across our land. Todos somos Arizona. Literally.

Good and thoughtful people are going to disagree about the particulars of public policy on immigration. But none of us is free to condone brutality, humiliation, policies that cause thousands of deaths of innocent people. Our religion compels us to take a stand.

We have to remember that our laws are founded on our sense of what is moral. And our sense of what is moral is ultimately founded on our religious and spiritual values. With legislation like SB 1070, our treatment of migrants goes against the teachings of all religious traditions.

I try to imagine what someone like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would say about how we treat migrants in America today. Or Gandhi. Or Jesus. Where would they stand? Would they allow those with less power, less social standing, to be treated as if they are less than human? I believe we already know the answer.

I am proud to be president of a religious movement that calls all of us to stand on the side of love, on the side of the inherent worth and dignity of all people, on the side of compassion for those most vulnerable. I am proud of our Unitarian Universalist ministers and congregations in Georgia and Alabama who are at the forefront of opposing anti-immigrant legislation in those states.

Throughout this struggle, I think of my visit last year to our border with Mexico, and the children at a detention center there whose father had been taken away. I think of the thousands who have died in the desert. I think of the young undocumented adults I have met who came here as infants and now live in constant fear of being deported from the only country they have ever known. I can still see their faces. They haunt me.

When I think of the people who are suffering and dying as a result of our broken immigration system, I know I did the right thing a year ago. And I know all of us who stand on the side of love will have to make that stand again and again.

Todos somos Arizona.