Rev. Liana Rowe’s involvement in Arizona’s immigration controversy began when members of the state’s religious community heard reports about corpses of immigrants being found in the desert near the Mexican border. Soon she was drawn into debates over racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, measures that turned immigrants into criminals under Arizona law, and the range of issues involving law enforcement, employment, and services for the thousands of people who cross the Mexico-US border each year without authorization.
“Desperate people move. It’s a global phenomenon,” she told participants in a workshop Saturday morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord, the first event on her 9-day speaking tour of New Hampshire. But as immigration crackdowns in the urban centers forced migrants into more remote areas, harsh desert conditions caused death and suffering, she explained.
In essence, migrants were getting death sentences for crossing the border without authorization, which as a matter of law is a civil offense, like a speeding ticket.
“As communities of faith, we looked at the deaths in the desert and said ‘this is not acceptable,’” she said.
Her presentation in Concord, as well as one Saturday evening at the First Parish Church in E. Derry and one at the Community Church of Durham on Sunday explained the relationship between border enforcement, interior enforcement, and detention, all of which have subject unauthorized migrants to harsh treatment and destroyed families.
Rev. Rowe also gave the Sunday sermon at the Community Church of Durham and delivered greetings to the Maranatha Indonesian UCC Church in Madbury, which celebrated its seventh birthday yesterday.
Her schedule for the rest of the week includes events in Manchester and Hanover Tuesday, Concord Wednesday, Concord and Pelham Thursday, Franconia Friday, and finishes up in Concord on Sunday.
Rev. Rowe, a resident of N. Phoenix, sits on the Board of Directors for Humane Borders, a humanitarian organization that maintains water stations in remote desert regions of Southern Arizona. She has also been active with the Somos America/We Are America Coalition in advocating for human and civil rights in Arizona. Rev. Rowe was 2011 recipient of the City of Phoenix Martin Luther King, Jr. Living the Dream Award.
Her New Hampshire tour is sponsored by the Commission on Witness and Action of the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ and the American Friends Service Committee.
Rev. Rowe will be accompanied at many of the presentations by the Rev. Sandra Pontoh, pastor of the Maranatha Indonesian UCC Church in Madbury, and Eva Castillo Turgeon, who leads the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.
At its 2010 annual meeting, the NH Conference of the United Church of Christ adopted a resolution calling for solidarity with immigrants and with the Southwest Conference of the UCC. The resolution called on church members “to consider prayer, study, protest, and other possible actions for immigrant rights, and that the NHCUCC will mobilize our congregations for just and fair Federal Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”
The United Church of Christ is New Hampshire’s largest Protestant group, with 139 churches and 23,000 members across the state.
The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization whose work for social justice includes a commitment to humane immigration reform.