After two years of planning, the timing of the April 15-17 "Crossing Borders, Encountering God" conference seemed so perfect as to be providential.
"We are gathered here to have this conference around issues of immigration and borders and on the very day we gather we have these two events — ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids throughout Arizona and the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, mandating law enforcement to determine immigration status, going to the governor's desk," said the Rev. Mark Adams, director of Frontera de Cristo Ministries and a member of the conference planning team.
Co-sponsored by the Synods of the Sun and Southwest of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Synods of Noroeste and Israel of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico — the conference brought together close to 200 participants from both churches for worship, workshops, teaching and learning from one another about the complex border relations between the two countries and churches.
"It was the gravity of the 'non-welcome' for the stranger among us by our government on both a federal and a state level that hit us right in the face — it was that urgency which caused us to respond and to make a statement as a people of faith, gathered together to find out how we can respond to the issues of immigration in faithful ways," said Adams.
Speaking out against the ICE raids, Adams pointed out that "we are not responding against the government going after a criminal element — we support that."
It was the way in which the raids were carried out, Adams said, what can be construed as a public show, leaking the information to the press, and creating a spectacle — actions that conference participants worry will create fear in communities among both the documented and the undocumented.
"Instead of restoring order and a sense of safety, these raids bring fear and instability and erode the trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement, creating a climate of fear," says the conference statement.
These raids happened at the same time as the Arizona senate bill was sent to the governor's desk for signature. Those who oppose SB 1070 say that it will mandate police to become immigration enforcers — an unfunded mandate that will make them determine immigration status without having training.
"The kairos moment of this conference happening on the very day that we have taken on a new level in our state and country because of the broken federal system — we as faith communities can’t stay quiet. We have to raise our voices," urged Adams. "We as people of faith felt like we needed to raise our voices to encourage all people of faith and conscience to say this is not who we want to be."
The conference statement says, "we celebrate the diversity of our nation and the contribution of immigrants and call for the end of the criminalization of individuals and the destabilization of our communities."
Adams noted that this raising of voices and the letter which came from it, is not anti-U.S. government. "We are trying to participate in the redemption of a broken system," said Adams. "Any time the powerful set laws in place that oppress the poor, the alien, the stranger — that is something that [people of faith] have to work to change."