Santa Barbara faith leaders discuss immigration in virtual panel

Abigail Dees, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, March 11, the Interfaith Sanctuary Alliance — part of the Santa Barbara extension of Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) — met for a panel discussion in which local immigrant rights advocates discussed what’s next for immigrants in Santa Barbara. The panel was held over Zoom and was moderated by Reverend Julia Hamilton, leader of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. It featured two special guest speakers: Frank Rodriguez, policy advocate with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), and Alexia Salvatierra, a faith-based organizer and former director of CLUE LA. 

Hamilton began by asking the speakers about the moment that prompted their involvement in immigrant advocacy. 

Rodriguez answered first, claiming that his beliefs were politicized through observing his family’s relationship with Santa Barbara. Growing up as a member of an immigrant family, he saw firsthand “not only the lack of safety nets available to immigrant communities, but the actual proactiveness of white supremacy here where I grew up.” He explained his experience of “how easy it is for people to feel ‘other’ in Santa Barbara.”

Salvatierra took a different approach. She told her story about being raised amongst immigrant relatives. Although her family felt the same distress, they were never politically involved. She credits her political involvement to her faith, saying, “becoming a Christian did not give me a sense of anguish about injustice, but it gave me hope.” 

Hamilton proceeded to ask about the growth they have seen and what actions they plan to take in order to cultivate more change on a local and national level. 

Rodriguez took the opportunity to discuss Immigrant Lobby Day. The event will take place virtually on May 25 in hopes to help residents without official U.S. documents receive proper health care, stimulus checks, and other monetary assistance through passing new legislation. He also plans to push laws that protect immigrants from criminalization and unfair treatment by law enforcement. 

Salvatierra expressed her gratitude for the relief ushered in by the new presidential administration, but explained that her excitement is tempered as she envisions the long road ahead. 

She mentioned the unique role faith communities have in the world of immigrant advocacy, explaining, “When immigrants and non-immigrants get together as family, which is what happens in the faith community, then there is an exchange of passion and hope which fuels the sustained advocacy we need to change the situation, and that is the unique role of faith communities who have as their mandate that they care about people who are not them.” 

In order to create that change of passion and hope, Salvatierra suggested that people — immigrants and non-immigrants alike — need to share life together in a deeper way. She believes joining coalitions is one of the most effective ways to instigate change because coalitions focus on relationships. 

Rodriguez ended the presentation on a hopeful note: “We know there is a different society than what we have been given. We know there is a different society than what has been talked about. Step by step, we get there.” 

Hamilton seconded the notion. “The systems we have were created by human beings, and we can create different systems if we can imagine them.”

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