Obama

VIDEO: Executive Action Explained

Before taking executive action in November, which would exempt millions of immigrants from deportation, President Obama used scripture to remind U.S. citizens that “we were strangers once, too.” Jim Wallis used this Exodus quote for the title of his February “Hearts & Minds” Sojourners column. In “‘We Were Strangers Once, Too,’” Wallis describes the tough battle to reform immigration policies, the importance of Obama’s recent executive action to the lives of immigrant families, and the need to continue fighting for more permanent congressional solutions.

Watch Vox.com’s two-minute video below to learn more about what led to Obama’s executive action and the impact it will have on millions of immigrants.

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Operation Railroad

IN OCTOBER 2013, an ad hoc group of humanitarians in Tucson, Ariz., chained themselves under buses scheduled to bring undocumented immigrants to trial at the federal district courthouse. The protests were aimed at Operation Streamline, which requires federal criminal charges to be brought against every person accused of an illegal border crossing. The action halted, for one day, Operation Streamline’s en masse prosecution of groups ranging from 50 to 100 people.

Under Operation Streamline, implemented under the Bush administration, deportation cases shifted from civil immigration authorities to federal criminal courts, a move that forced undocumented immigrants into the federal criminal justice system and into U.S. prisons. Operation Streamline is undergirded by a 2005 Customs and Border Patrol program called the Consequence Delivery System (CDS), which “guides management and agents through a process designed to uniquely evaluate each subject and identify the ideal consequence to break the smuggling cycle.” Using CDS, a first border-crossing offense is treated as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison. Those who are caught a second time face deportation and possible felony convictions punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Prior to CDS, border crossers without proper documentation were rarely prosecuted as criminals; instead, they were “administratively deported” through the civil immigration system. Under fast-track programs such as Operation Streamline, a federal criminal case—with prison and deportation consequences—can be completed in two days or less.

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'We Were Strangers Once, Too'

IF YOU'VE been following Sojourners’ work for the past few years, you know that we have been deeply involved in efforts to reform our nation’s broken immigration system. In the wake of President Obama’s game-changing executive actions in November and the political firestorm they ignited, it’s appropriate for us to reflect on how we got to where we are today and where we might go from here.

After the 2012 elections, it seemed all but certain that we would see comprehensive immigration reform become law during the 113th Congress. The electorate in 2012 had a higher percentage of Latino voters than ever before, in keeping with our country’s changing demographics. The mandate seemed clear for political leaders on both sides of the aisle to prioritize immigration reform or risk alienating a constituency vital to winning future elections.

Beyond this narrow political calculus, however, many of us became deeply involved in the struggle for immigration reform because we strongly believe that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral imperative, and long overdue. Our faith as Christians compels us to struggle for a more humane immigration system. Indeed, the scriptures could not be clearer. In the Old Testament, the Lord commands: “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

In the New Testament, the stranger and all who are vulnerable are at the very heart of the gospel. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for them is the defining mark of God’s kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

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Alan Gross Release Hailed as Hanukkah ‘Miracle,’ First Step in ‘Normalized’ U.S.-Cuba Relations

Photo viaTerry Straehley via Flickr / RNS

A view to the west over the ocean and the once-posh suburb of Vedado in Havana, Cuba. Photo viaTerry Straehley via Flickr / RNS

Alan Gross, the Jewish international aid worker held on alleged spy charges in Cuba for five years, was freed on Dec. 17 — what some are calling a Hanukkah miracle on the first day of the holiday that celebrates religious freedom.

Gross, 65, of Maryland, has always claimed that he only went to Cuba to bring communications equipment to the small Jewish community left in Havana. However, the Castro government said he was part of a spy network attempting to set up a secret network for Cuban Jews. Gross was serving a 15-year sentence.

President Obama chose the Dec. 17 release as a springboard to announce a massive historic “normalization” of U.S.-Cuba relations. Meantime, in Cuba, President Raul Castro, who held a press conference in Havana at noon, was expected to release 53 Cuban political prisoners.

Obama particularly credited the “moral example of Pope Francis,” who actively encouraged Gross’ release. Francis, who held private meetings at the Vatican to secure the deal, praised the move, sending “his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

Weekly Wrap 12.5.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner
The Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed unarmed Eric Garner was a shocking injustice — but this time the injustice has been universally condemned across religious and political lines. Read this great roundup of evangelical leaders’ responses.

2. These Are the Best Jobs Numbers in Months, Maybe Years
In good news today, the jobs numbers released this morning were a pleasant surprise. The Upshot breaks down the numbers for you. 

3. This Atheist Is Thankful for the Clergy
“The clergy here in St. Louis are a credit to their traditions and to their profession. They are doing what religious leaders ought to do: holding society to a higher moral standard, using their authority as a weapon against injustice, mobilizing the rich resources of their religion to bring hope and encourage change. I’m glad they are here, and I feel privileged to work with them.”

4. Why Are Some Cultures More Individualistic Than Others?
Apparently it all comes down to farming practices. “As we enter a season in which the values of do-it-yourself individualism are likely to dominate our Congress, it is worth remembering that this way of thinking might just be the product of the way our forefathers grew their food and not a fundamental truth about the way that all humans flourish.”

Religion Loses Clout: Why Many Say That’s a Bad Thing

Wedding-related businesses graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center/RNS.

More Americans today say religion’s influence is losing ground just when they want it to play a stronger role in public life and politics.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds 72 percent of Americans say religion’s influence is declining in society — the highest percentage since Pew began measuring the trend in 2001, when only 52 percent held that view.

“Most people (overwhelmingly Christians) view this as a bad thing,” said Greg Smith, associate director of Pew’s Religion & Public Life Project. “That unhappiness may be behind their desire for more religion and politics.”

Growing numbers want their politicians to pray in public and for their clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit. And nearly half of Americans say business owners with religious objections to gay marriage should to be able to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

There are three ways to look at the findings, released Sept. 22:

 

Weekly Wrap 9.19.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. In Record Turnout, Demographics Shape Scotland's Emphatic No Vote
National Geographic has a recap (and stunning photos) of yesterday's vote: "Tomorrow a new campaign—for reconciliation—will begin. The referendum opened up deep, sometimes venomous, class and regional divisions."

2. WATCH: It’s On Us 
Today, the White House announced its nationwide public service campaign to prevent and respond to sexual assault on campuses. Watch and share.

3. Together We Make Football
“Football encourages some deep tremor of romance about what it means to be a man. ...Save for the military — with which it has a symbiotic relationship — the NFL is the biggest and strongest exponent of American masculinity. And integral to that notion of American masculinity is violence.”

4. Confessions of a Military Skeptic
"Do we believe that everything will be fine after we kill the last Islamic State militant?" Thomas Reese, on being neither military hawk nor pacifist in regards to ISIS, for National Catholic Reporter.

Time for Confession—and Action

THE NEWS IN mid-May was grim: Scientists announced that melt across the West Antarctic was proceeding much faster than before. In fact, they said that at this point the melt of the six great glaciers fronting Amundsen Bay was “unstoppable,” and that over a number of decades it would raise sea levels by 10 feet or more.

This is another way of saying: Given dominion over the earth, we’ve failed. We’ve taken one after another of the planet’s great physical features and wrecked them. The Arctic? Summer sea ice is reduced by 80 percent, and it’s an every-year affair now to boat through the Northwest Passage, impassably choked by ice until this millennium began. The seven seas? Thirty percent more acidic than they were in the past—and the acidity could double or triple by the end of the century. The Antarctic? It’s not just warming rapidly, but its wind patterns have been changed by the ozone hole in ways that amplify the heating. Storms are stormier, droughts are deeper, fires last longer, rain falls harder.

And all because it was a little easier and a little cheaper not to change off fossil fuels. When scientists sounded the alarm about all this in the late 1980s, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was about 350 parts per million—or what we now consider the upper bound of safety. If we’d heeded their fervent warnings, we’d have moved with great speed to convert to solar and wind power. We’d have parked our SUVs. We’d have insulated every home in the world. It would have cost money and it would have been inconvenient; on the other hand, it could have bred solidarity in much the same way that preparing for World War II transformed the U.S.

But we couldn’t be bothered. We ignored the first commandant that we’d been given: to exercise sensible, sane stewardship over this planet that God had found so good. We stood by as our addiction to fossil fuel ran Genesis in reverse.

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