By Ria Riesner, Senior Organizer
While lawmakers continue to debate how – or even if – government agencies will increase resources to address the influx of refugees along the U.S.-Mexico border, a broad coalition of churches and faith groups have stepped up to address the needs of new families and children arriving in the U.S., often after harrowing and dangerous journeys. The experience of Jesus, himself an immigrant, resonates deeply among the Christian faithful. The efforts of the faith community to come to the aid of these refugees are buoyed by the myriad references in Scripture to welcome the strangers among us. In Leviticus 19:34, God commands, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Last week, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and a coalition of Evangelical organizations wrote letters to Congress, opposing expedited deportation of the migrants. And last month, a coalition of 20 Jewish groups wrote their own statement in support of the refugees.
A broad interfaith group of churches and affiliated groups including Catholic Charities, orders of Catholic sisters, and several other faith traditions are working together to find solutions to current logistical challenges, like assembling and distributing food, clothing, basic medicine, blankets, and toys for children. These groups are also helping new arrivals to complete required paperwork, and to identify pro-bono or low-cost legal representation to help new immigrants navigate hearings. Several groups are recruiting qualified clinicians to address the basic medical needs of these individuals, and engaging pre-screened foster families to temporarily host children while they await judicial proceedings.
Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, a lawyer who worked for NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, traveled to Texas to work with new arrivals and help them navigate the paperwork trail. You can read about her experience working with unaccompanied child migrants here.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a resource kit to provide those interested with ideas for how to help unaccompanied migrant children.
Pope Francis, in his July 14th message, reiterated a point he had made before, saying,
“A change of attitude toward migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only cultures capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”
Below are a series of links that provide further information about how to donate/volunteer/get engaged in the effort to address the spiritual and material needs of these new arrivals in several states.
Diocese of Austin – Catholic Charities of Central Texas – http://ccctx.org/about
Diocese of Corpus Christi – http://www.catholiccharities-cc.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=182
Diocese of Dallas – www.catholiccharitiesdallas.org/immigration-services
Diocese of Ft. Worth – www.catholiccharitiesdallas.org/immigration-services
California, San Bernadino – St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church – www.stjosephfontana.com/events-1/migrationreliefasistenciaparaemigrantes
California, Fontana – St. Joseph’s Catholic Church – working with Homeland Security to house 46 individuals. http://lat.ms/1redHIF
Florida – Catholic Charities – www.cflcc.org/sidebar5
Maryland – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service – seeking qualified, cleared foster parents, donations www.lirs.org/bordercrisis/
Mississippi, Jackson – Catholic Charities, Diocese of Jackson
New Mexico – Diocese of Las Cruces, NM – seeking volunteers
Ohio – Unitarian Universalists –
Oklahoma – Oklahoma Conference of Churches – recruiting pro-bono legal assistance
Pennsylvania, Womelsdorf – Bethany Childrens’ Home – housing children, seeking donations and volunteers
Wisconsin – Catholic Conference – www.wisconsincatholic.org/charities.cfm
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A Portland group that advocates for immigrant day laborers has been disqualified for a grant from the U.S. Catholic bishops’ national anti-poverty campaign over its affiliation with a national organization that endorses cvil marriage for gays and lesbians.
The Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, which has received church funding since 1994, will no longer be eligible for a $75,000 grant from the bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) because the advocacy group will not agree to the bishops’ request that it cut ties with the nation’s preeminent Hispanic civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza.
NCLR, which primarily focuses on immigration reform, economic justice and a host of issues supported by Catholic bishops, also holds a policy position in support of marriage equality. As you might expect, the largely Hispanic men that Voz serves each day are not crusaders on the front-lines of LGBT rights or deep-pocketed liberal donors invited to glitzy galas at the Human Rights Campaign. We’re talking about poor immigrants, many of them undocumented, who are struggling to find jobs that put food on the table, get decent health care for their kids and learn English. As Voz director Romeo Sosa told the Associated Press: “Marriage equality is not the focus of our work. We focus on immigrant rights.”
As a tiny non-profit, Voz survives on a shoestring budget — the CCHD grant would have amounted to a healthy chunk of its total budget — so they find invaluable technical support and other resources from more established national organizations like NCLR. But even this kind of relationship is viewed as morally unacceptable by some in the hierarchy because of the specter of same-sex marriage.
Talk about a classic lose-lose. Bishops will not win any points here in their efforts to oppose a demographic tsunami that has made support for marriage equality a mainstream view even among many in the pews, and an organization that puts Catholic social teaching into practice by empowering immigrants will have fewer resources. Day laborers should not be collateral damage in our tiresome culture wars.
At a time when Pope Francis says he prefers a church that it is “bruised, hurting and dirty” because its out “in the streets,” this seems like a page from an old playbook that wasn’t working so well for Catholic bishops.
Let’s be clear. Many bishops deserve enormous credit for standing up to an increasingly aggressive network of conservative activists who relentlessly attack CCHD, which has long been a key funder of community organizing that addresses the root causes of poverty and structural injustice. Just last month, the U.S. bishops’ anti-poverty campaign approved grants totaling over $14 million to support more than 200 organizations doing this essential work.
But it would be a major step backward if CCHD withdraws from the kind of bridge-building coalition work that research says leads to the most effective outcomes for low-income communities. I wrote about these trends last summer in a report endorsed by several former CCHD executive directors and retired bishops. This would be a loss for both the image of church and, even more importantly, low-income communities Catholic institutions have a proud history of serving so well.
“Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,” Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza, a past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told me at the time. “Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty.”
In an interview today, Dylan Corbett, the Mission Identity Outreach Manager at the U.S. bishops’ CCHD office in Washington, told me the church remains committed to building coalitions and finding common ground.
“We are not pulling back,” he said. “Our commitment to collaboration is not diminished. The money is flowing out the door.” Corbett emphasized that Voz, CCHD staff in Washington and the Portland diocese had many conversations. “We wanted to work through this and we never shut the door. We are troubled by what happened. We are deeply committed to immigrant rights.”
But he said Voz recognized that their affiliation with the National Council of La Raza would disqualify the day laborer group from the potential grant because of CCHD’s contractual guidelines. NCLR’s public policy position on marriage equality, he said,”does not square with Catholic teachings.”
“We respect Voz’s thoughtful decision to make a public commitment to La Raza and the values of La Raza,” Corbett said.
John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, and a former assistant director for media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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The following is a guest post from one of FPL’s summer interns, Jordan Countee. Jordan is a sophomore at Towson University in Maryland.
A year has passed since Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court decision that invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act. The decision means that states are no longer required to clear changes to voting policies with the federal government. Shelby v. Holder has opened the door for states with a history of racism to develop new laws and practices that keep people of color from voting. These laws look like contemporary versions of the voter suppression tactics those civil rights activists sought to abolish 50 years ago.
Freedom Summer, which took place in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, began when two nonviolent civil rights organizations teamed up with volunteers to organize a voter registration operation. During the project, they were met with violence from state and local authorities, as well as white supremacist groups. Four activists were killed, countless others were assaulted, and many churches and black-owned homes and businesses were either burned or bombed.
The next year, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act, which eliminated discriminatory policies like literacy tests and poll taxes. While Freedom Summer activists fought those discriminatory policies 50 years ago, people today are fighting new ones.
In 2006, Indiana became the first state to pass laws that require identification to vote. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, voters are now required by law to show some form of ID in order to cast their ballots in 11 states. Eight of those states require a photo ID. While the Voting Rights Act says that being a citizen and being registered to vote should be enough to cast a ballot, these states are filtering out voters who want to vote, but haven’t obtained an ID.
Legislators have proposed an array of limitations to further restrict voting accessibility. By discontinuing early voting, people who work during regular election hours may not have the ability to leave their job without fear of repercussions, and as a result, may not vote. Efforts to migrate voter applications to an entirely online format would create a divide between voter registration applicants who have internet access and knowledge of technology from those applicants who do not. People of color also disproportionally face felony convictions which prohibit them from voting. These types of laws are a new legal form of discrimination, which are more subtle, but not unrelated, to the injustices Freedom Summer activists fought to erase.
Activists like those at Freedom Summer risked their lives to make the right to vote available for all people. Today there is a new generation of voters that may never have to experience the harsh violence that those activists endured, Many who decide to vote for the first time are welcomed by cheering volunteers. Exercising the right to vote is not only a way of honoring the legacy of Freedom Summer, but also the surest way for inhibited voters to counter contemporary voter suppression.
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While the long-term consequences of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby are unclear, it was no victory for religious liberty as the concept has been understood for hundreds of years. Rather, the decision was another radical expansion of corporate power by the Roberts court, and a permission slip for CEOs to use religion as a pretext to refuse coverage of birth control.
The implications are vast. Even though the ruling applies specifically to “closely held” corporations rather than publicly traded ones, 90 percent of American businesses are classified as closely held.
These corporations don’t have souls. They are legal entities created by humankind, not living beings created in the image of God. Endowing these artificial institutions with the same religious freedom that you and I have is both theologically troubling and legally dangerous. While the ruling itself addressed only contraception coverage and explicitly was not applied to related issues such as vaccination coverage and LGBT discrimination, it could set a legal and cultural precedent for assertion of a corporation’s “religious” right to discriminate or to deny coverage of crucial healthcare services.
The Hobby Lobby decision is also a threat to the health of women workers, and a blow to pro-life and pro-choice Americans who share a common-ground commitment to reducing abortion. I’ve read well-reasoned analysis predicting that the ruling will not jeopardize access to contraception, but there is no guarantee of that outcome. In fact, shortly after the ruling was announced, a federal court of appeals granted an injunction against the contraception-coverage mandate for a television network. Keep in mind that the IUD contraception methods Hobby Lobby specifically objected to are the most effective means to prevent unintended pregnancy, have been shown to significantly reduce the abortion rate, and can be prohibitively expensive for working women. As unintended pregnancies increase, so do abortions.
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If you want to see the power of faith to serve the common good, there are few better places to look than our nation’s religious hospitals and healthcare facilities. Their generous commitment and humble service show that the teachings of our faiths are truly life-giving, not just letters on the pages of Scripture.
Unfortunately, some of these providers and the people they serve are being directly harmed by politicians blocking Medicaid improvements in 24 states. Mercy Health, one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the country, just laid off 220 people thanks in part to this immoral obstruction. People are not only being denied health insurance, but also being prevented from providing healthcare.
The impact of Medicaid refusal is measured not only in illnesses untreated and thousands of lives cut short, but also in jobs lost and economic hardship. It’s unconscionable.
In state after state, faith leaders are taking this issue head-on. In Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and allies hold weekly prayer vigils for Medicaid expansion in front of the state capitol in Richmond. And last week, when State Sen. Phillip Puckett (D) resigned his office in apolitical tradeoff that allowed Republican lawmakers to block Medicaid expansion, they swiftly and publicly condemned the move.
Last month, clergy leaders of Missouri Faith Voices shut down the state Senate with a massive demonstration in favor of immediately closing the Medicaid coverage gap, and FPL recently held a press conference call with key faith leaders from Georgia, Florida and Missouri – as well as the head of the Catholic Health Association – lifting up this same message.
As people of faith, we know that every person matters in the eyes of God. Sooner or later, the extremist politicians who are depriving their constituents of healthcare will get the memo too.
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