A new wave of arrivals makes its mark in America's dairy country.
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Now we are at Valentine’s Day a year later. For many months last spring, a solitary red heart balloon floated just under the dome of the Capitol. It became a gentle symbol of this powerful people’s uprising.
The red heart balloon can serve as a reminder of how God’s Spirit blows whichever way it will, but that God’s Spirit is a spirit of justice and of compassion. As Bishop Burnside said, voices of faith need both a vocabulary of love and a vocabulary of justice as we move into the highly-charged months ahead.
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Whenever possible, I plan my Saturday errands such that I’ll be able catch part of “This American Life” on public radio as I drive and I’ve often found myself sitting in the grocery store parking lot to hear the end of a story.
One recent Saturday, the show’s theme — which ties together each of its non-fiction stories — was the biblical truism that “you reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7), and most of the program was dedicated to examining the consequences — intended and otherwise — of Alabama’s controversial, toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, HB 56, which passed last June.
Whether what is happening in Alabama as a result of this law — and, as the program reveals, a great deal is happening, even if most of us outside of the state aren’t paying attention — was the intention of the bill’s authors and supporters is not entirely clear. What is clear, from a Christian perspective, is that the effects are devastating.
What most saddened me in the program was the statement of a young undocumented woman named Gabriella that, since the passage of HB 56, she finds herself unwelcome everywhere. “Even in the church,” she says, “you find people that… don't want to talk at you. And they don't want to give the peace to you.”
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During this 35-minute audio story, Hitt walks through many aspects of the immigration bill and introduces real stories of people interacting with it — from Scott Beason, a Republican senator who was the primary sponsor for the bill last season, to Latino families pulling their kids out of school, quitting their jobs, and remaining safe in their isolated neighborhoods.
Hitt demonstrates how this is not only a huge issue for the state, but also for the church. A woman shares that people at her congregation are suspect when passing the peace, some won’t even shake hands. But again, this is what HB56 is about: making life uncomfortable to the point that the undocumented people will leave because it’s easier to flee than to stay.
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It was a record year for U.S. farmers in 2011, with farm income topping $100 billion. This includes sales of $22 billion in fruits and nuts and $21 billion in vegetables and melons — crops that rely on immigrant farm labor.
But even as U.S. farmers prospered in 2011, those working on farms had less to celebrate.
The nation’s agricultural mecca — Fresno Country, California — had the state’s highest agricultural sales ($5.9 billion) and its highest poverty rate – 27 percent. More than 36 percent of the county’s children were poor, also the highest rate in the state. As one agricultural expert puts it, “High farm sales and high poverty rates often go together.”
Low wages, the seasonal nature of agricultural work, and, for many, unauthorized immigration status make it difficult for farm workers and their families to escape poverty. Farm workers’ high poverty rates aren’t totally attributable to immigration status, but it’s certainly one of the causes: 71 percent of all hired farm workers in the United States are immigrants, and about half of them are in the country illegally.