“Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”
For years, faith leaders across the country have invoked words such as these in the effort to reform our broken immigration system. Last night, President Obama spoke them in the East Wing of the White House as he announced his executive action plan that will provide as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants with relief from the threat of deportation.
Our movement is succeeding. While comprehensive, common-sense federal legislation is still needed, this is a moment to rejoice. The yoke of constant fear has been lifted from millions of families, workers and students.
Church World Service, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, PICO National Network, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Bend the Arc, key evangelical clergy and many other faith leaders who have led the fight for immigration reform commended President Obama’s action and renewed the call for Congress to pass bipartisan reform.
That will be difficult. This morning, Speaker Boehner (who has personally blocked the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill for a year and a half) condemned the president’s move in the strongest terms, and in recent days conservatives have called for responses ranging from a government shutdown to impeachment.
Absent from their political rhetoric is acknowledgement of the dignity of immigrants who are trapped in the shadows and the sanctity of immigrant families. We must remind anti-immigrant leaders of the human impact of this debate.
If your congregation is helping mixed-status families find out if they qualify for the new protections and safely navigate the application process, please check out iAmerica.org — a streamlined online resource sponsored by FPL, allied faith groups, labor leaders and immigrant-rights organizations.
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The following is a guest post from one of FPL’s summer interns, Justin Massey. Justin is a senior at Wheaton College in Illinois.
“Sanctity of life” is a phrase we hear often in Christian circles. As people of faith, we believe that life is valuable and precious, and as the Bible states in Genesis1:27, we are all created in God’s own image. Yet, we sometimes fail to live up to our commitment to protect all lives, which are sacred. When tragedy hits a community outside of our own, we feel discomfort, yet rationalize inaction. We justify silence and complacency by characterizing the vulnerable as strangers. We characterize these individuals as just different enough to stifle our sense of urgency to act.
We are faced with a solvable but serious humanitarian issue in the United States, as children fleeing violent, dangerous environments in Central and South America seek safety within our borders. While there are some in the faith community who have stepped up to protect the lives of these vulnerable children, others’ fear outweighs their commitment to compassionate action. As Christians called to protect the sanctity of life, we should aspire to be more Christ-like in our response to this crisis, seeking to care for the children first, rather than criticizing our government and our broken immigration system.
As a millennial, I don’t just embrace a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse. Rather, I rejoice in it. From childhood to now, many of my closest friends, classmates and co-workers have been individuals from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds. 1 in five millennials within the U.S. are of Hispanic descent. This diversity allows for a complex cultural exchange that is worth celebrating. My generation is characterized by a pursuit of compassion and understanding despite differences. When we look at the vulnerable children entering the United States, we don’t see strangers. We see a reflection of our modern, beautifully diverse community, full of lives that are valuable and worth protecting. “Sanctity of life” refers to the sanctity of all lives. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus showed special care when he said, “Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” As we seek to be more like Christ, let us come together as people of faith to wholeheartedly commit ourselves to love and protect all of God’s children.
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DAYTON, OH – Today, Dayton religious leaders responded to Rep. Mike Turner’s shameful criticism of plans to potentially shelter refugee children. As tens of thousands of children flee violence in their home countries, communities like Dayton – which pride themselves on being welcoming – must not turn away these children with callous indifference.
At his press conference this afternoon Rep. Turner claimed that Mayor Whaley does not speak for the community. These and many other Dayton faith leaders disagree:
Rev. Rodney Wallace Kennedy, Lead Pastor, First Baptist Church Dayton:
“Representative Mike Turner and six other elected officials, most from outside Dayton, have declared that Mayor Nan Whaley doesn’t speak for Dayton on the subject of caring for immigrant children. When Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come unto me,’ what did he mean? Care for the children and pass meaningful immigration reform.”
Sister Maria Stacy, SND, Director, Dayton Hispanic Catholic Ministries:
“This is an issue about defenseless children. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, calls us to welcome and protect these children. The violence in these countries calls for a humanitarian response to this crisis, not a closed door.”
Rev. Dr. Perry Henderson, Pastor, Corinthian Baptist Church:
“If sending desperate, vulnerable children back into the arms of murderous gangs and human traffickers isn’t a sin, I don’t know what is. Our faith tells us that we must not turn our back on these children of God.”
Rev. Sherry Gale, Senior Pastor, Grace United Methodist Church:
“We must be welcoming to all of God’s children and do everything in our power to combat this humanitarian crisis on the border. I am proud to stand with Mayor Whaley in supporting the principles laid out in the Welcome Dayton Plan to make Dayton an immigrant-friendly city.”
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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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As the immigration reform debate reaches a critical moment, 30 prominent Catholic leaders have released a letter calling on House Speaker John Boehner and other members of Congress to pass comprehensive reform that protects immigrant families and includes a path to citizenship. Signers include heads of religious orders, presidents of Catholic universities, priests, women religious and lay people from across the country.
The letter, organized by Faith in Public Life, references the teachings of Boehner’s Catholic faith about justice for immigrants, and is running as a full-page ad in Thursday’s edition of Politico. Also on Thursday, bishops who serve on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration are gathering on Capitol Hill to hold a mass urging lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for all aspiring Americans.
Bishops participating include Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami; Bishop Elizondo; Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City; Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona.
It’s outrageous that Boehner and other House leaders have procrastinated and obstructed for so long while immigrant families are broken apart, but faith leaders are not going to give up until reform becomes a reality.
The text of the letter and list of signers is below:
Dear Speaker Boehner,
We write to you as fellow Catholics with heavy hearts and a profound sense of urgency. As the House of Representatives still delays passing comprehensive immigration reform, mothers are torn apart from children, migrants are dying in the desert and our nation is weakened.
Mr. Speaker, how can we fail to act?
Legislative obstruction in the face of preventable suffering and death is not only a failure of leadership. It is immoral and shameful. The eyes of our God — who hungers for justice and commands us to welcome the stranger and bind the wounds of those left by the side of the road — are on us.
Are we deaf to the cries of families and aspiring Americans separated by a broken system?
We stand with U.S. Catholic bishops who will celebrate Mass on Capitol Hill this week, and who come once again to advocate for humane and practical immigration reform.
Will you pray with us that the House of Representatives puts aside partisanship and passes comprehensive reform?
Pope Francis reminds us that a “globalization of indifference” prevents us from seeing that every migrant, regardless of status, has inherent human dignity. As Catholics who share your commitment to the sanctity of life in the womb, we must not be complicit in the suffering of migrants dying in the shadows. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has called justice for immigrants a “pro-life” issue, spoke during a Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border last month of the “unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless.”
Is our nation so callous that we fail to weep for those nameless lost? We pray that you and your colleagues in the House have the moral courage to show real leadership and act.
Rev. Larry Snyder
Catholic Charities USA
Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J.
Trinity Washington University
Rev. Daniel Groody, CSC
Director of Immigration Initiatives, Institute for Latino Studies
University of Notre Dame
Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J.
University of San Francisco
Donna M. Carroll
Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J.
Loyola University New Orleans
Rev. Clete Kiley
Director for Immigration Policy
Rev. Charles Currie, S.J.
Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J.
Distinguished Professor of Ethics & Global Development
Rev. Michael U. Pucke
St. Julie Billiart Parish
Hamilton County, Ohio
Rev. Anthony Kutcher
National Federation of Priests’ Councils
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS
NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Stephen F. Schneck
Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America
Sr. Sally Duffy, SC
SC Ministry Foundation, Cincinnati, Ohio
Moya K. Dittmeier
Conference for Mercy Higher Education
Rev. Leonir Chiarello, C.S.
Scalabrini International Migration Network
Center for Migration Studies of New York
Francis X. Doyle
Associate General Secretary (retired)
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J.
Director, Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University New Orleans
Rev. John Baumann, S.J.
PICO National Network
Christopher G. Kerr
Ignatian Solidarity Network
Franciscan Action Network
Sr. Pat McDermott, RSM
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Sr. Patricia Chappell
Pax Christi USA
Francis J. Butler
Drexel Philanthropic Advisors
Catholic Program Director
Faith in Public Life
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Christopher J. Hale
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
Rev. Sean Carroll, S.J.
Kino Border Initiative
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