The Mountain Times

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Faith based organizations take up immigrant rights as a moral issue

The Rutland Unitarian Universalist Society hosted "Driving Towards Human Rights," a speaking tour on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 10:30 a.m. A Vermont farmworker was the featured speaker.

There has been an increased move on the part of various faith organizations throughout the state to take up immigrant rights as a moral issue that boils down to standing up for the fundamental human rights for all. The UU Church is just one of several faith groups that has begun to see the moral responsibility to welcome and support Vermont's migrant farmworkers.

Migrant Justice was invited by the UU as part of its state-wide "Driving Towards Human Rights Speaking Tour" where various communities, organizations, and faith groups are hosting Vermont's farmworkers to get to know better what life is like here for the approximately 1500 migrant workers who put the milk and cheese on the table.

The event on Sunday preceded a separate event on Monday by a different group of faith-based organizations, the Vermont Ecumenical Council, that includes leaders from several Christian denominations in Vermont. They gathered at the Vermont State House on Monday, Oct. 22, at 11 a.m. to call for "just and fair national, state and local policies and action regarding immigrants." According to Joseph Gainza, organizer of Monday's press conference, the statement, over a year in the making, is the result of extensive interviews, data gathering and research on the issue of immigration and the lived reality of immigrant farm workers in Vermont. In the Statement on Immigration the VECBS Trustees declare: "We must recognize our complicity in creating and maintaining unjust economic rules and practices." They call on people of faith and good will to recognize that how immigrant workers are treated in Vermont "is not simply a legal issue but also a moral question."

This outpouring of support from Vermont faith communities for immigrant rights all precedes the 3rd Study Committee for Migrant Worker Access to Driver's Licenses that will take place at the State House on October 26 from 9:30-3 p.m. Danilo Lopez, a Migrant Justice farmworker spokesperson sums up the last committee meeting, "What we learned is that there are no laws preventing Vermont from creating access to licenses/ID for undocumented people. Now, we'll see if the committee has the will to recommend that the legislature create access to licenses/ID for our communities so that we can live and work here with more dignity."
Background on Licenses

In January 2012 Senator White introduced a bill to establish a 'Vermont Guest Worker Program'. However, the Senate Agricultural Committee quickly established that the State of Vermont has no legal authority to create Guest Worker Programs. After taking extensive testimony, the Senate Agricultural Committee-with enthusiastic support from the farmworker and farmer communities-transformed Senator White's "S-238" to address fundamental human needs and rights within the power of the State of Vermont to address: "The general assembly finds that migrant workers in Vermont face significant challenges based on their current inability to apply for Vermont driver's licenses and non-driver identification cards, including the inabilities to travel and access services, medical care, and purchase basic necessities, to officially identify themselves or be identified, and to fulfill typical responsibilities of their employment that require them to legally drive."