2011 Summit - Immigrant Support and Immigration Reform at Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship

June 4, 2012, 11:48 pm
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Immigrant Support and Immigration Reform at Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship

Presentation to the NW UU Justice Summit, October 22, 2011, by Chuck Torrey

I think our process for becoming active in the issues of immigration reform needs a little context about our fellowship.  We have a membership of about 60-70, with maybe 35-40 at a typical Sunday service.  Vashon Island in general, and members of the fellowship in particular, are a very socially active bunch, involved in many organizations oriented to the island and beyond.  Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship as a group, however, has not been very socially active in recent years.  We have no social justice or like committee, instead settling for a Community Service Committee whose main activity is to collect for social service or social justice organizations at one Sunday service a month.  Some of us as individuals have supported Washington UU Voices for Justice, and we always give to UUSC, but that has been the extent of our UU collaborations.  As a fellowship we have supported some island social service activities.

One of Peter Morales favorite references is to the results of a Pew Research Center study, which found in short that:

The best predictor for a declining congregation was agreement with this statement:

“My congregation feels like a close-knit family.”

The best predictor for a growing congregation was agreement with this statement:

“My congregation is a moral beacon in the community.”

Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship has in my opinion been on the close-knit family end of the spectrum.  As we have confronted who we are in the last few years, it has become clear to me and others that we need to develop something more beyond supporting members in their outside activities, and develop something that we could focus on AS A GROUP that might become the moral beacon in our community that we would like to be.  When Immigration as a Moral Issue was passed as a study/action at last year’s GA, getting a group together to do the study sessions got us started.

We went through the UUA’s six session study materials in six months.  About a dozen people participated in at least some part of it, or about 20% of our membership.  At the end we felt the need for action, and the local immigration detention center in Tacoma seemed like the low hanging fruit.  Since July we have had members at each second Saturday vigil, and I think I can safely say that everyone who has gone has come back affected by what they experienced.  The stories we hear from visitors about how their loved ones were picked up incidentally or on minor legal violations; the children of all ages coming to visit a parent they may not see again in a very long time; the lack of legal support and fundamental procedural rights; and the citizens who come out in protest, especially from the New Sanctuary Movement and the Socialist party.

Though we are not “needed” on these Saturdays (there are often quite a few people there offering support), and we might be of more service on other visiting days when there is less support, we have decided to continue this particular schedule for now so that we can continue to introduce more and more of our members to the project in a setting where there is networking with other organizations.  I visited recently on a third Sunday in order to make contact with Tacoma Unitarians, who are the sole vigilers on that day.  Joining them, or finding out if there is a different day when no one is there on a regular basis, may make more sense in the long run.

We see the activity as a support to the visitors and as education for ourselves, but holding up a sign out in the mudflats of the Tacoma port is not going to do much to change immigration policy in this country.  Not much of anything will at this point, but we feel the importance of standing by those who are affected, and doing our part to develop the necessary momentum.  Other steps taken or planned are:

  1. to have a Sunday service on immigration, just accomplished this last Sunday and very well received by those attending (Diakonda Gruning of New Sanctuary was our speaker),
  2. to reach out to other faith groups on our island to see if others are working on immigration justice issues (we will be meeting with the Lutheran pastor on the island this coming Monday),
  3. to network through other existing organizations, such as the Northwest Immigration Rights Project and the Tacoma Detention Center Roundtable,
  4. to reach out to our local immigrant population, primarily Hispanic and living as anonymously as possible, to see if there are ways that they can safely become more integrated in island life,
  5. and to develop some kind of forum on the island to bring the issue of immigration reform to the fore.

We have not had a ready avenue to coordinate with other UU’s in the region.  We tend to be a little insular, if you will pardon the expression, so this conference is an excellent chance to get that networking started and look for ways we can support each other in our social justice work.  I especially like hearing stories of how other congregations have organized themselves and motivated their members to find common ground in the direction to take in social justice work.



Torrey, C. (2012). 2011 Summit - Immigrant Support and Immigration Reform at Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship. Retrieved from http://www.nwuujn.org/view/article/171563


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