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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 5:29 pm | Fair 62º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: On Global Migration Sunday

Picture people huddled in the grass: a crowd more than 16 times the population of Los Angeles. It’s impossible to conjure. But that figure — 65 million — is the number of people who have been forcibly removed from their homes worldwide.

Of these, 21 million are refugees and half are children, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. This is the crisis that spawned Global Migration Sunday, which took place in United Methodist Churches nationwide on Dec. 3.

The event, set on the first day of the Christian season of advent, included prayers to raise awareness, collections to aid migrants and refugees, and sermons to call the faithful to response.

The First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara had plans to promote the event with preaching, prayer and encouragement to support the Methodist Church’s Global Migration Advance fund, according to Associate Pastor Alan Strout.

As a congregation, First Methodist is invested in care for local immigrants by hosting regular meetings of a network of local faith groups, led by Julia Hamilton of the Unitarian Society.

The ecumenical sanctuary coalition includes working groups dealing with community outreach, congregational education, political action, and coordinating volunteer opportunities.

Other local organizations provide aid for people fleeing conditions in their home countries.

Immigrant Hope Santa Barbara provides civics tutoring, English classes, and driver's license handbook study courses in Spanish. In addition, Immigrant Hope is a Department of Justice-accredited nonprofit offering low-cost immigration legal services.

The Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara provides legal services ensuring all people have access to the civil justice system in times of crisis. They keep updates on ICE activities and policies in the county.

Nearly a quarter of Santa Barbara County’s population are immigrants. More than 11,000 of these are undocumented farmworkers laboring in county fields and ranches to provide for our meals.

Grassroots activities point out the importance of the immigrant community to our larger community.

Last February, more than a dozen Santa Barbara restaurants closed for a day as part of a “day without immigrants” spread by social media.

Boathouse owner Adam White said at the time, “I didn’t set out to make some sort of statement. I’m just trying to show support for my guys. These are good people. They pay their taxes. They are not taking any jobs away from anyone I grew up with.”

At the grassiest-root level are the houses with signs supporting immigrants. My favorite is the tri-colored sign that reads “No matter where you are from we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in English, Spanish and Arabic.

The sign could be in 220 languages, points out my neighbor, for each of the languages spoken in California. But there’s little chance someone with a French, Italian or Swedish surname will not be treated neighborly.

Inevitably, we arrive at politics. Is an immigrant languages sign or an immigrant Sunday a political statement?

Yes, they are political in same way the Statue of Liberty is political, promising to take “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These are aspirational statements of who we want to be as Americans.

They’re political in the same way that in the time it has taken to read this article, more than 40 people have been forced to leave their homes and become immigrants in some strange new land. What happens next, if they end up in our grasslands, is up to us as a society.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]h.com. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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