The Unitarian Universalist Association called for the abolition of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) at their general assembly in Kansas City on Sunday.
While some Democratic candidates for office have called for or suggested an end to ICE, the Unitarian Universalist Association may be the first religious entity to do so. Many others have called for reform to immigration policies.
The vote came just a day before Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, announced that he plans to introduce legislation to abolish ICE.
Delegates of the Universal Universalist Association’s General Assembly voted “with an overwhelming majority” for “an Action of Immediate Witness” calling for the abolition of ICE, family separation and detention of asylum seekers, according to a news release.
“We’re not advocating open borders,” said Charles Merrifield, a leader at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Wichita. “We’re not advocating lawlessness. We’re advocating that the functions of ICE be performed in a non-paramilitary manner.”
A draft of the proposal blasts immigration policies, the U.S.’s exit from the U.N. Human Rights Council and Trump’s recent executive order on family separation “that purportedly ends the practice while denying responsibility for creating the crisis in the first place.”
“ICE has a history of terrorizing and abusing immigrants and operating outside the law,” the proposal states. “As the agency carrying out the administration’s barbaric policies, it must be dismantled so humane and appropriate processes and agencies can be created.”
The proposal says member congregations should demand investigations into detention, the abolition of ICE, removal of immigration oversight from the Department of Homeland Security and “the implementation of a system that understands the causes for migration, provides a non-carceral solution while asylum seekers await a decision on their case, and has a fundamental commitment to keeping families together.”
The duties of ICE should be reassigned, Merrifield said, possibly with the government re-creating the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the agency that preceded ICE.
The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said the church has been working to stop the separation of immigrants for years. Before becoming the association’s president, she led a congregation in Phoenix, where she worked closely with immigrant-rights activists.
Frederick-Gray said it is important to remember that ICE was only started in 2003, after 9/11, changing how people view immigration.
“The abolition of ICE is critical from a moral perspective because we need to stop looking at immigration through the lens of criminalization and terrorism,” she said. “The UUA through the action of this general assembly is trying to answer a higher moral call to offer aid to people in need, to be the Samaritan to the people who are fleeing violence.”
The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Manhattan, Kansas, said the action opposing ICE was strongly supported at the assembly.
Unitarian Universalists have been meeting to discuss immigration. Some will be attending rallies in support of immigration Saturday, and others have begun offering sanctuary to illegal immigrants.
“The sentiment is that there’s a basic problem with ICE being part of the Department of Homeland Security and with immigration being handled in a way that works to criminalize people often based on race and national origin,” Johnstone said. “That’s something we want to resist.”
Unitarian Universalists embrace diverse teachings, adhering to seven principles that include worth and dignity of every person, justice in human relations and a “free and responsible” search for truth. Some Universalists practice another religion such as Christianity, Buddhism or Paganism. Others are humanist or atheist.
The Unitarian Universalist Association includes nearly 200,000 members or people enrolled in religious education.