Fields of Denial

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
Migrant workers pick parsley on a Colorado farm, 2011. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

About every five years the Farm Bill addresses a broad set of food and agricultural policy issues. Commodity price supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy, and foreign and domestic food programs were just some of the issues included in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, as the last Farm Bill legislation was officially titled.

The Farm Bill is also known for the broad range of policy stakeholders who work on it, including state organizations, national farm groups, commodity associations, conservation advocates, rural development organizations, and faith-based groups.

But even with its inclusive set of policy issues and actors, the Farm Bill is notable for one issue policymakers and advocates doesn’t touch: People who work on farms.

Refugee Defies Deportation, Seeks Sanctuary at Church

American flag photo by Christopher Penler,

HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. — Saul Timisela was ordered to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Newark early on the morning of March 1 to be deported.

Instead, the Indonesian Christian took sanctuary at the Reformed Church of Highland Park, where the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale is trying to save a group of Indonesian refugees who fled their country to escape religious persecution more than a decade ago.

Timisela may have felt safe given ICE's historical reticence to raid churches where illegal immigrants are being harbored. But at the same time, he was sorry to say goodbye to his wife of 10 years — another Indonesian Christian who's also in hiding because she has overstayed her visa and does not have an open case with the immigration agency.

Faith at the Tipping Point

Ada María Isasi-Díaz is a leading voice of mujerista theology, a liberation theology rooted in the everyday experience of Latinas. As her foundational 1996 book Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century puts it, her work aims at creating “a public voice for Latinas and capturing a political space for that voice,” including in academic theology. Isasi-Díaz is professor emerita of ethics and theology at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Sojourners associate editor Elizabeth Palmberg interviewed her in November at the Call to Action conference in Milwaukee.

Elizabeth Palmberg: The U.S. will soon reach a demographic tipping point at which no ethnic group is in the majority. What challenges and opportunities do you see this presenting to Latina spirituality, and to the nation as a whole?

Ada María Isasi-Díaz: We’re either going to have a radical change in perspective or continue to have enormous inequality and ill-treatment of people whom we see as “other”—who don’t look like those in power, are not white, and so forth. The tipping point means that the hour of reckoning is coming. One of the things we need to work on is: How do we change? How do we understand differences?

We have always equated differences with incompatibility, but that’s not true. Many differences are not incompatible. That’s the kind of work that we need to demand of our leaders—church leaders, political leaders. We need to talk about differences; we can’t just sweep them under the rug. Differences do not have to divide us; they can enrich us.

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Land of Milk and Immigrants

IMMIGRANTS FOUNDED the U.S. In western Wisconsin, where I live, people came in the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries from Germany, Switzerland, and Norway, lured by the pull of free land to homestead and pushed out of their home countries by adverse economic conditions. Many of these immigrants settled close to each other for protection and comfort. They first began their dairy farms, then started building churches, schools, and businesses. The local newspaper was printed in German until World War I. We still have areas known as Norwegian Valley, or Tell (named for the Swiss).

The dairy industry’s story, which began to be written by these first-wave immigrants, continues to be written by today’s immigrants.

During the first half of the 20th century, a farm of 40 to 100 cows became the landmark of this area, because it was the size one family could operate. The hours were long, the work hard, but one could provide for a family comfortably.

Fast forward to the 1980s. Many factors made it harder for dairy farmers to make a comfortable living with this number of cows. The family farm was disappearing. If people wanted to stay in business, farms needed to grow. That meant hiring employees—but from where? Young people were leaving the area, migrating to the cities to be educated and to find jobs that matched their skills. Increasingly, dairy producers have had a harder time finding local people to do the honest, but not glamorous, work.

Enter immigrants once again, this time from rural Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Many found jobs on the dairy farms, living in houses provided by their employers. They’re part of a larger trend; the foreign-born share of Wisconsin’s population grew from 2.5 percent in 1990 to 4.4 percent in 2008.

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Afternoon News Bytes: Feb.15, 2012

You've Heard Of Evangelicals, But Who Are They?; Radical Solutions To Economic Inequality; Playing Fair In Love And Climate Change; Jeremy Lin Says Faith In God Triggered 'Lin-Sanity'; 800,000 Americans Tell Senate: Stop The Keystone XL Pipeline; 5 Things You Might Have Missed In Obama's Proposed 2013 Budget; 'Plug In Better': A Manifesto; Render Unto Caesar; Are You A Real Christian?; Hundreds Rally Against Alabama Immigration Law.

The Red Balloon of Social Justice: Wisconsin One Year Later

Red heart balloon. Image via Wylio,
Red heart balloon. Image via Wylio,

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.

Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 10, 2012

Demonstrations Whisper Of An Arab Spring In Jordan; Perfect Storm Threatens Long-Term Unemployed; Obama: Birth Control Policy Meets Everyone's Needs; Will Inequality Keep Getting Worse?; What Davos, Occupy Have In Common; On Immigration, 'Amnesty' Isn't A Four-Letter Word (OPINION); In Year Of Uprisings, Reporters Brave Crackdowns From Wall St. To Tahrir Square (OPINION).

Welcoming the Stranger: Immigration and G92

Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/Washington Post via Getty Images.
Immigrant families are fleeing Alabama in the wake of the new law. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/Washington Post via Getty Images.

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.”

Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 2, 2012

Obama: Jesus Would Tax The Rich; Pockets Of Prosperity Across USA Escaped Recession; Obama Won't Touch Climate With A Ten-Foot Pole; U.S. Press Freedom Fell 27 Places Last Year To 47th In The World; Gingrich Slams Romney: The Founding Fathers Believed In Equal Opportunity For The Poor; Why Both Parties Are Flying the Anti-Wall Street Banner; Occupy Your Voice; Can Science End War?; Alabama's Immigration Law To Cost State Millions In Lost Taxes, Study Says.

MUST LISTEN: This American Life’s “Alien Experiment”

Old radio, adobe wall. Image via Wylio
Old radio, adobe wall. Image via Wylio

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.