Office of Public Witness issues Action Alert encouraging congressional contact
by Rich Copley and Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians are being asked to play an advocacy role to avert a second government shutdown — and at the same time protect immigrants and border communities.
An Action Alert issued Thursday by the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Public Witness indicates that Congress has until Feb. 15 to figure out how to, among other tasks, fund the Department of Homeland Security. “It is critically important,” the alert states, “that Congress work together to avert another government shutdown while protecting the rights and dignity of migrants, border residents and vulnerable communities across the nation.”
According to Voice of America, the nation’s immigration court system has a backlog of more than 809,000 cases this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The average wait time for immigrants to be heard in court is already almost two years. Another shutdown could set the clock back further.
The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Office of Public Witness, said the concern is for every federal worker who’d be impacted by a second shutdown just weeks after the 35-day shutdown ended Jan. 25.
“There’s a lot of concern for workers that does not rise to the forefront of the administration’s attention,” he said. “When you hear the President and members of his cabinet and his family saying basically this (shutdown) is for the benefit of the whole, don’t worry about your individual pain, they show a lot of naivete about the real damage that’s being done to individual families and to the country. We really want to urge them not to allow the government to shut down again.”
Hawkins said the Office of Public Witness supports legislation like the Stop STUPIDITY Act introduced last week by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia.
“We think Congress should move legislatively to end this whole process where the government shuts down because they can’t come to an agreement,” Hawkins said. “While I don’t agree with the name, the intent of the bill is good.”
Hawkins said President Donald Trump will again play a large role in the days leading up to the Feb. 15 deadline.
“He’s the unknown factor,” Hawkins said. “The group they have put together (congressional conferees) is going to come up with a compromise on both sides. But if it doesn’t say ‘$5 billion for a border wall,’ I’m really concerned that the President might veto it and shut down or declare an emergency situation.”
Neither one, he said, is a legitimate response.
“The President needs to take a long, deep look at the negative impact of this shutdown on the country,” Hawkins said.
He said the Office of Public Witness and the Church at large must push Congress to work with government contractors, who as of now will not be reimbursed for their lost pay following the recent shutdown.
“Many of them are people of color,” he said. “They’re the low-wage workers who clean the bathrooms and keep the buildings ready to go.”
“We need to demand,” he added, “that many of them become federal workers and move away from contract work, and that (the government) enter into an agreement with the contract workers that they will reimburse them as well.”
By starting here, concerned Presbyterians can deliver an email to the sender’s member of Congress. “We need people of faith to urge their members of Congress to pursue a long-term solution without further militarizing our border or shutting down the government,” the alert states.
Granting additional funding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “will worsen our punitive immigration system and put more people in harm’s way,” according to the alert. “Instead, Congress should invest in alternatives to detention, such as community-based case management, and more humane policies and practices along the border.”
In addition, “ICE and CBP should be prohibited from overspending appropriations or repurposing other agencies’ funding for detention, border wall construction or expanded immigration enforcement,” the alert says.
Presbyterians represented by these congressional leaders and conferees are especially encouraged to contact them: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Here are the Senate conferees: Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia; Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota; Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri; Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont; Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana.
These are the House conferees: Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York; Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California; Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California; Rep. Henry Cueller, D-Texas; Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-California; Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas; Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tennessee; Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia; and Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Mississippi.
The alert encourages letter-writers to discuss with their legislator passing a spending package that protects the rights and dignity of migrants and border communities, focuses on reducing funding for deportation and detention as well as border militarization and walls and efforts to work with colleagues across the aisle “to restore good governance and reject the President’s harmful immigration enforcement demands under threat of another shutdown.”
“The federal workforce is not a bargaining chip,” the suggested language concludes. “This nation’s immigrant community is not a bargaining chip. I urge you to reject the use of people’s livelihoods in a game of political brinkmanship.”
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