Thursday, July 16, 2009

MOP's 2009 Nehemiah Assembly

Over 800 people from over 29 cities all over Western Michigan and Northern Indiana gathered at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center on Thursday night July 9, to press a set of grass-roots justice-oriented policy initiatives with 22 local, state, and federal public officials.

The diverse audience was made up of church members from local and suburban congregations, homeless people, ex-offenders, and documented and undocumented immigrants who work in a variety of local farms and businesses, who are desperately hoping that federal immigration policies will be changed and they will be able to unite their families and live in peace and security.

The spirit of the gathering was one of excitement and expectation, summed up in the Spanish slogan, “Si se puede!” which echoed through the auditorium throughout the night. There was also music from the praise band of Iglesia Evangelica Misionera, a local Hispanic immigrant church and member of MOP.

As a result of the pressure of being in front of over 800 people united on a common agenda, as well as the spirit and enthusiasm that were so powerful throughout the evening, the following advances were made toward a greater degree of justice:

* Three City of Kalamazoo Commissioners committed to focusing future tax abatements toward companies that make efforts to hire some of their new entry-level employees from among disadvantaged community, including ex-felons.
* State Representative Robert Jones committed to work for legislation that will automatically expunge criminal records 5-7 years after the individual returns to the community and lives with no further criminal offenses.
* State Wage and Hour Head Jack Finn committed to continued work with MOP and the Community Workers Center to clamp down on employers who steal wages and compel their employees to work in unsafe conditions.
* Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley announced a new policy forbidding any kind of racial profiling and assuring immigrants that they will not be identified to immigration authorities unless a serious felony is suspected.
* County Treasurer Mary Balkema pledged to use all the resources of the newly created Land Bank, which she heads, to create increased housing for the homeless.
* Five County Commissioners pledged to support doing research to determine whether a significant number of jail inmates could be diverted from the jail before committing to any expansion of the jail.
* Marc Muelman of the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services and 5 County Commissioners committed to have a mobile dental clinic to serve school children up and running by January, 2010, and a major expansion of the fixed clinic by 2012.
* Representatives of Senator Carl Levin and Representative Fred Upton committed to work with MOP toward Comprehensive Immigration Reform based on the four MOP principles for reform.

MOP board chair Ericka Parkison-Kilbourne summarized the meeting outcome: “Last Thursday this huge crowd of people of diverse backgrounds came together from cities and rural areas with one common goal: to elevate the status of the poorest, most oppressed people in our communities, to guarantee them the rights and dignity they expect and deserve. We spoke with one voice, and all the public officials present realized that it is our common faith that unites us in the holy cause of justice.”

Michigan Organizing Project is a faith-based coalition of religious congregations and community groups who work together to build the power needed to bring about social and economic justice, especially for the poorest and most marginalized people in our society.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May Day Rally

This past May First MOP held a rally together with the Hispanic-American Council and Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC) in recognition of the International Workers' day and the introduction of the DREAM Act to Congress. Brian Paff of the Micah Center took some great photos and did a wonderful write-up of the successful event. You can check this article by going to this link:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Meeting with Rep. Vern Ehlers in Grand Rapids

We had a solid and diverse coalition representing the Christian Reformed, Catholic, Reformed, and Evangelical Covenant churches and that included Hispanic, African-American, and Caucasian people. We also had a woman pastor who is an immigrant herself from Trinidad and Tobago. Our agenda went smoothly. Jerry Dykstra, the executive director of the Christian Reformed Church opened with prayer and spoke about the biblical principles that move him to support comprehensive immigration reform. From there, Pastor Rik Stevenson gave the historical perspective of how the U.S. has been exploiting and excluding people because of their race from its inception. Then pastors Aaron Gonzalez and Tomas Ivens told stories from their congregation which highlighted the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Next, Albert Hamstra from the denominational office of the Christian Reformed Church presented Rep. Ehlers with over 130 signatures of pastors, Calvin College professors, people who work at the Christian Reformed denominational building, and others who agreed with the set of principles developed by Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (which fall in line well with our own principles).

Rep. Ehlers was not immediately receptive. He went on about the problems with trying to find a compromise and trying to decide who should be given a path to citizenship and who should not, what should be done with the backlog and what should be done with those who are already here. He also brought up the strong anti-immigrant sentiment nationwide and the districts that some of his colleagues feel, like those from Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, and California. On the positive side, he said that he believes that the district he represents is a welcoming one and that he does not hear much about immigration from either side. When he was asked if he would support comprehensive immigration reform in line with the McCain-Kennedy bill he said, “Probably. But I would have to see the bill first.” Ehlers went on to say that the McCain-Kennedy bill was the best piece of immigration reform legislation he had ever seen. In closing, Ehlers apologized for “being so argumentative,” but that he wanted us to know what dealing with the issue of immigration is like for him.

I do think that Ehlers will vote the right way when the time comes. However, in the meantime we need to continue to ramp up the pressure on Obama and local representatives like Ehlers so that a bill gets introduced. Getting people signed up for the mobile network and hosting events like rallies and prayer vigils will be key to our success.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

MOP Speaks Out for Immigration Reform at Calvin College

Members of Michigan Organizing Project from Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids spoke out on immigration reform at a gathering of about 70 interested students at Calvin College on March 4.

Diane Zandstra, chair of the Calvin Spanish department and Dan Miller from the history department gave biblical and historical contexts for the problems with the current immigration system, and members of MOP told stories of their own and others’ immigration. Sergio told of his long separation from his mother, who came from Mexico to the U.S. to work and support Sergio’s continued education. Sergio eventually came to the U.S. to join his mother, finished school, and fell in love with an American woman. After six years together, they are still unable to marry because of his immigration status. Carmen told of the arrest and forced deportation of the mother of a young child, and of taking money and papers to jailed immigrants who face long imprisonment without trial and with no access to visitors or other support. MOP founder and director John Musick remembered his call to work for civil rights for African-Americans in the early 1960s and compared it to the call to fight for rights for immigrants today. Pat explained how MOP works for justice and discussed MOP’s four principles of immigration reform. Larry talked about the progress MOP has made and about hope for comprehensive immigration reform by 2010. Organizer Jordan Bruxvoort encouraged students to get involved in any way they can, and the climax of the evening was a performance by Emerson, a hip-hop artist whose moving lyrics describe the plight of immigrants to this country.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Our meeting with Representative Fred Upton this past Wednesday exceeded our expectations. We came well-prepared with a diverse group of pastors, immigrant leaders, greenhouse owners, homeless people, and lay leaders from our churches. Rep. Upton showed up on time with one of his top aids, Mark Ratner. Pastor Ericka Parkinson-Kilbourne got the agenda moving very quickly after Upton’s arrival and laid out clearly and succinctly the Biblical lens through which we look at policies. She highlighted how Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 command us to weigh every policy by how it will affect the most vulnerable like immigrants, homeless people, and the imprisoned.

Following Pastor Ericka’s presentation we drove our points home about immigration reform with testimony from our diverse coalition. Ken Nieboer from the Growing Place greenhouse shared his experience with a worker from his business whose life and family was thrown into limbo because of the obstacles created by our current immigration system. Steve Zylstra, founder of a local greenhouse owners association and former head of the statewide greenhouse owners’ association, spoke about the need for comprehensive immigration reform to create a stable workforce and for an end to initiatives that would try to turn business owners like him into immigration agents charged with verifying the documents of prospective workers. Sonia Roman, the wife of Pastor Martin Roman of MOP member church Iglesia EvangĂ©lica Misionera el “Yo Soy” gave statistics and a personal story explaining just how out-of-date our immigration system is. Following her testimony, Javier Ballesteros, a leader from our workers’ center, presented some awful examples of worker exploitation he had witnessed and made a strong case for increased worker protections. Rep. Upton tried to use some of his own positive experiences visiting factories as evidence that the government is doing a good job protecting workers. Without batting an eye, Javier replied, “That’s because they know you are coming.” Seeing Javier’s point, Upton conceded and asked MOP to bring him more stories about workers being exploited so that he could be more informed about this issue.

As the result of our testimony, use of statistics, and negotiating handled primarily by Larry Provancher and Pastor Ericka Parkinson-Kilbourne and Javier Ballesteros, Upton agree to support the following principles for immigration reform. 1. A path to citizenship for all those already in the country who will pay back taxes, learn English, have no criminal record and can show a stable work history 2. Speeding up the family reunification process through increasing the number of visas available 3. Ensuring full workers rights for immigrants who will come in the future based on the needs of our economy.

Many thanks to all of you who have been supporting MOP’s immigration campaign and showed up to our action on the 21st of January which helped get us this meeting and to our leaders who did such a good job getting prepared for this meeting and then making it happen. Thanks are also due to the One who still turns the hearts of those in power and who passionately loves us and calls us forth to even greater acts of justice.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Social Justice Rally

What: A rally in front of Representative Fred Upton’s office

Why: To draw press attention on the first day of Obama’s historic presidency to the need for immigration reform, jobs, and housing

When: Wednesday, January 21 @4pm in front of Rep. Upton’s office on the mall in downtown Kalamazoo

For more information, contact the Michigan Organizing Project: (269) 344-1967