Even though the House of Representatives leadership has been stalling the immigration reform debate for months now, faith leaders are still ratcheting up the pressure.
This past Sunday, congregations in Catholic dioceses across the country gave homilies and held events calling on Congress to pass immigration reform that protects immigrant families and builds a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans. The following day, leaders of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition announced the launch of Fast Action for Immigration Reform, a 40-day prayer and fasting campaign thousands of people of faith nationwide will participate in as Congress gets back to work this fall.
Today a Faith and Business Roundtable organized by Faith in Public Life at the University of St. Thomas in Houston will feature prominent local evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic leaders calling on Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) to support reform that includes a path to citizenship. Poe is an important figure in the Congressional debate, and St. Thomas is in his district.The Christian Community Development Association’s national conference this week is also mobilizing evangelical leaders to continue praying and working for reform.
All of these actions come on the heels of an August congressional recess in which thousands of faith leaders from coast to coast held scores of events urging House Members to support immigration reform.
Anti-immigrant politicians who thought they could quietly kill reform by delaying the legislative process underestimated the faith community’s commitment. We’re not going to waver just because it’s taking longer than expected.
A moment of truth
Immigration reform has attracted bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress – at least 26 Republican House Members support a path to citizenship. If Speaker John Boehner would allow a House vote on the bipartisan Senate bill today, there would be a White House signing ceremony within a week. It really is that simple.
Boehner faces a test of leadership and a test of conscience. He can continue to side with anti-immigrant demagogues like Steve King, or he can listen to the faith community and reform a failed system that destroys families and makes a mockery of our nation’s values. As House Members signal that they’ll resume work on immigration next month, the moment of truth could come very soon.
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As Congress returns from their August recess, many important debates lie ahead. One issue that’s flown under the radar this summer is the looming showdown in the House of Representatives over SNAP funding. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, keeps millions of Americans out of extreme poverty and hunger, but it faces serious threats.
For one, benefits for every single SNAP recipient will be cut automatically in November as an emergency benefit increase begun in 2009 and renewed last year expires. At that point, SNAP benefits will fall to a meager $1.40 per meal.
House Republicans plan to not only slash SNAP funding by an additional $40 billion, but also to make massive structural changes that permanently hobble the program’s ability to protect children, seniors, the disabled and struggling families from utter destitution. The proposed changes include rewriting eligibility rules to cut off recipients who can’t find work, incentivizing states to kick people off SNAP and undermining enrollment programs that help eligible families sign up.
The policy details are complex, but the big picture is clear – unless House Republicans change course, up to 6 million Americans who are barely getting by right now will soon experience greater food insecurity, hunger and extreme poverty. That’s roughly equivalent to the entire population of Missouri. A vote is expected as soon as next week.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has great fact sheets explaining what’s at stake. You can read them here and here.
Faith leaders are weighing in too. This week, Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Catholic diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, published op-eds in their local newspapers calling on their Representatives to show moral leadership and protect struggling families from SNAP cuts.
As the fight over SNAP resumes, I’m reminded of the faith community’s crucial role in the budget battles that began when Tea Party Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. Thanks to the Circle of Protection, Nuns on the Bus, and many others, SNAP was spared from deep budget cuts and politicians like Paul Ryan were held accountable for claiming that taking food away from poor families was consistent with Christian values. As yet another round of this moral struggle begins, I have no doubt that our community will be heard again.
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Church bells rang out across the country yesterday as thousands of Americans gathered in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Speakers at the Lincoln Memorial pointed out both the tremendous progress made and the steep road ahead on our journey to fulfilling the ideals that were so resoundingly expressed half a century ago.
At the March and in congregations hosting commemorative services, leaders addressed issues such as jobs, living wages, economic inequality, education, mass incarceration, healthcare, immigration reform, and discrimination against minority voters. That sounds like quite a laundry list of issues, but they are systemically linked and woven together by a thread of common values – dignity, equality and justice.
As the marchers return to their home communities, the fight for these values carries on. Today fast food workers in 60 cities mounted the largest strike ever for living wages in their industry. Included were places where key events of the civil rights movement took place, such as Raleigh, Chicago and Memphis.
Led by the faith community, people across the country are marching, holding vigils and pressing lawmakers every single day to pass immigration reform that protects immigrant workers and families, builds a roadmap to citizenship and ends the gross miscarriages of justice caused by our broken system. The list of struggles for justice animated by Dr. King’s dream is long.
When President Obama said yesterday that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own,” I nodded along in agreement, but I also felt a flutter of fear in my chest because none of us alone is equal to this great task. Our success, which is far from guaranteed, depends on our ability to inspire, organize and mobilize. Only then can we make the cost of perpetuating injustice unbearable.
When, God willing, my son goes to the Lincoln Memorial 50 years from now to mark the century anniversary of the March on Washington, I want him to be standing shoulder to shoulder with people of all races in a nation where full justice and equality are no longer such a distant dream. Whether that happens is far outside my control. But I do have a small say over whether he knows that his parents’ generation did all they could.
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Last Saturday, my friend Troy Jackson of Ohio Prophetic Voices and fellow Ohio clergy led a 500-person march to House Speaker John Boehner’s office in Springfield, Ohio, to call on the Speaker to pass immigration reform including a roadmap to citizenship. Their message was simple: a path to citizenship is smart, moral and urgent. Earlier in the week, hundreds of evangelical leaders from 27 states met face to face with their Representatives on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to pass immigration reform.
Those actions were just a preview of what faith leaders will do during the critical August Congressional recess. Republican lawmakers now face a clear choice: heed the moral authority of families and faith leaders calling for citizenship, or continue to let Rep. Steve King set the party’s immigration agenda. While some GOP leaders distanced themselves from King’s recent accusation that DREAMers being drug smugglers (a claim faith leaders who work on the border forcefully rebuked), don’t forget that an overwhelming majority of Republican House Members voted in favor of King’s recent bill to resume mass deportation of DREAMers.
Not your father’s pope
Since his election to the papacy this spring, Pope Francis has earned headlines and widespread praise for symbolic gestures and substantive remarks about a variety of issues. His bold message about the dignity of immigrants and his damning indictment of both the values and the effects of unfettered global capitalism have resonated around the world and energized the faithful here in the U.S. As a Presbyterian minister, I believe his influence is already stretching well beyond the Catholic church.
For a personal reflection on the impact Pope Francis is having on people in the pews, check out this Washington Post On Faith essay by my colleague John Gehring, Faith in Public Life’s Catholic Program Director.
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Several of my colleagues at Faith in Public Life made a pilgrimage to this week’s Moral Monday demonstration at the North Carolina state capitol, where they found a moving display of the faith community’s moral courage and perseverance in the face of injustice. Building upon 12 weeks of remarkable grassroots mobilizing, hundreds of people came out to make their voices heard, more than 70 were arrested in acts of civil disobedience, and religious leaders stood on the front lines.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Moral Monday movement, led by North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II, is uniting a diverse group of faith and secular leaders to push back on many immoral policies, including the Republican-controlled state legislature’s attacks on public education, tax credits for working families, safety net programs and healthcare. It’s no surprise that Moral Mondays has a higher approval rating than lawmakers in the state capitol.
The legislature’s latest scheme – voter suppression — will make undoing the damage more difficult. This week, GOP lawmakers advanced a bill that not only contains discriminatory voter ID requirements, but also scales back voter registration, early voting and access to polling places.
There’s something profoundly unjust about ramming through an unpopular, destructive agenda and then restricting voters’ ability to respond through the democratic process.
It’s no coincidence that North Carolina Republicans are doing this just weeks after five conservative Supreme Court justices struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. Before that ruling, large parts of the state were subject to federal pre-clearance of changes to voting laws because of the state’s extensive history of disenfranchising African Americans. Now, legislators can get away with laws that are designed to hinder constituencies such as minorities, young people and low-income people from voting.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that extremist politicians across the country are pushing agendas that harm struggling families and are opposed by most Americans. As we gear up for federal debates on immigration reform, healthcare and budget priorities, the Moral Mondays campaign has provided a clear example of how the faith community can stand resolutely for justice.
In other news, check out this story about the growth of religious progressives as the religious right declines!
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