Last week, 150 people gathered in Durham, North Carolina, for Ruth’s Journey: Building Communi-TEA, a one-of-a-kind interfaith tea and dialogue where local women of remarkably diverse backgrounds discussed the impact of immigration on women and their families. The Old Testament story of Ruth cuts across many faith traditions, and serves as a powerful model for us today. She was a sojourner, a migrant worker, a teacher, and a mother.
Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, Bishop Suffragan-Elect of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina started the event, reminding us that we were all once immigrants and that all women have a story to tell. The program was moderated by Renee Chou, reporter / anchor for WRAL-TV, who shared her own family’s immigration story. From there, numerous women from the community shared their experiences as immigrants who have realized the American dream, refugees who have overcome terrifying obstacles, and community leaders who serve and work with these newcomers to our nation.
I was most inspired by Vimala, a remarkably strong leader who emigrated from India several decades ago, escaped an abusive marriage, but was then barred by our immigration system from working, pursuing an education or becoming a citizen. Incredibly, she now owns her own successful business. And she eagerly awaits immigration reform.
Ultimately, these women reminded us of the moral and human dimension of immigration reform. They called on Senator Kay Hagan, who sent a staffer to the event, for a plan that prioritizes family unity, improves the lives of refugees, and creates a roadmap to citizenship.
The event was sponsored by Faith in Public Life, Church World Service , NC Council of Churches, The NAACP, The United Methodist Church, Church Women United, NC Immigrants Rights Project, The Sisters of Mercy, One World Market, Mom Africa Designs, and Respite.
**Press Conference Audio Available Here** National Clergy, Labor Leaders Urge ‘Gang of Eight’ to Protect and Promote Family-Focused Immigration Reform
(Washington, DC) – Today, prominent faith and labor leaders held a telephonic press conference strongly urging the Senate Gang of 8 and fellow lawmakers to protect family values and reject the reduction of family visas. In advance of next week’s release of the Senate Gang of 8 immigration framework, speakers on the call discussed why the labor and faith communities jointly oppose framework proposals that would harm aspiring American families and the economy by limiting family visas.
“To depend on immigrants for some of the hardest work in this country and then to deny them the opportunity to be reunited with their families is nothing less than a sin, said Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Resident Bishop of the United Methodist Church, Los Angeles Conference. “It is a sin that places immigrants in a sub-category of existence without the presence, without the love and support of those that they call family. Immigration reform that is just must include the reunification of families. Immigrants should not be used as mere economic tools in our struggling economy. They are human beings of sacred worth just like any of the rest of us – worthy of food, home, education and a good future — and they are worthy of being able to live their lives with their families at their side.”
Joining with the faith community’s endorsement of pro-family immigration policies, labor leaders spoke to why strong families are key to America’s future economic vitality.
“Some are trying to pit economic interests against family,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “They say that ‘on merit’ brothers and sisters and children and spouses are worth less than people employers prefer. The labor movement doesn’t buy that for one second. The idea that family unity stands in opposition to economic growth is completely backwards. Strong families are critical to our economic growth.”
Bishop Kirk Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona called on Senators McCain and Flake to recognize the inherent worth the family bond and not perpetuate family separation.
“I don’t believe that the Senate can restrict the definition of family. In any reform of our immigration laws it is critical that all families be kept together, and that U.S. citizens retain their right to sponsor their children and loved ones. Today, I ask Senator Flake and Senator McCain to fight for the needs of families across Arizona and across the country by protecting the family immigration system.”
Speaking from a shared set of values, both faith and labor leaders encouraged all lawmakers to keep pro-family, pro-unity immigration reform policies front and center in the ongoing immigration reform debate.
“Family-based immigration has kept our social fabric strong and helped build this nation,” said Kevin Appleby, Director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It would ignore our history to forsake it.”
More information on the faith community’s support for immigration reform that reunites families can be found at www.interfaithimmigration.org/family, including compiled statements from faith groups on recent House and Senate hearings on family unity.
Prominent clergy and faith activists from across America will join together on Wednesday, March 20 for a coordinated, multi-state “Loaves and Fishes” Day of Action to highlight the need for moral and political courage in federal budget negotiations. With 21 events across America, plus a press conference on Capitol Hill, the faith community will encourage Congress to question the austerity gospel, and remind them we have enough for all in this country.
John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, teamed up with Santa Clara University religious studies professor Kristin Heyer, to make a family values case for comprehensive immigration reform in yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News.
Heyer and Gehring write:
If you believe some conservatives, the biggest threat to “family values” is same-sex marriage. Yet these same elected officials wash their hands of a U.S. immigration system that tears parents from children, exploits migrants and leaves families in disarray.
While the “fiscal cliff” debate roars on, faith leaders across the country are determined to do everything they can to forge a moral solution that asks the wealthy to pay their fair share and doesn’t harm the poor and vulnerable. In an effort to persuade Congress to move towards a balanced deal, Bend the Arc Jewish Action Network has organized a letter signed by nearly 300 rabbis urging lawmakers to allow the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans to expire.
This campaign sends a strong signal from the progressive faith community as it seeks to influence the debate over the fiscal showdown. Addressed to elected officials, the letter opens:
“As rabbis, we are called upon to uphold the highest values of our faith, and to teach the laws of our tradition… Raising revenue in order to support important community institutions was established in the Torah’s commandments, extolled by the prophets, and has been a hallmark of Jewish communities ever since.”
“It is believed to be the first time a major American Jewish group has taken a position on a tax issue — other than advocating for preserving the charitable tax deduction — since the Jewish Council for Public Affairs did so in 2002.” Moreover, it highlights that the American Jewish community stands by people of every socio-economic background by ensuring a level-playing field for all Americans.”
The rabbis write that:
“Allowing these cuts to expire at the end of this year for the wealthiest two percent of Americans – those making more than $250,000 a year – is a crucial step toward increasing the equality and basic fairness that our tradition calls for.”