“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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Religious leaders from across the country praise President Obama’s action on moral crisis, call on Congress to act
Today, a diverse group of clergy voiced their support for President Obama’s announcement of executive action to address our broken immigration system. While executive action is no substitute for long overdue legislation, the president’s action will help to strengthen families and begin to solve this moral crisis.
The following quotes from clergy are in response to the President’s announcement:
Rev. Dr. Rodney Kennedy; Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dayton:
“I believe Scripture includes a preferential option for immigrants, and we are to love them as our neighbors. President Obama’s executive order is a much-needed first step towards fixing our broken immigration system.”
Sister Maria Stacy, SND; Director, Dayton Hispanic Catholic Ministries:
“President Obama’s action will help immigrant families to maintain their unity, and will strengthen our country by allowing us to recognize the immigrants present among us. The majority of these immigrants are hard-working breadwinners and people of faith who want to pave a better way of life for their families and who will fortify the moral fiber of our nation.”
Rev. Dr. Crystal Walker; Executive Director, Greater Dayton Christian Connections:
“As Scripture calls us to care for the immigrants among us, we are challenged by the president’s executive order to put our faith into action. I am optimistic about this first step toward repairing our broken immigration system with and putting families before politics.”
Rev. Tim Ahrens, Senior Minister at First Congregational Church, Columbus:
“We are a nation of immigrants. With God guiding their steps, our forbearers came to these shores. Now is the time for all generations of immigrant people to welcome the newest Americans. With open arms, let us take them in. Just in time for Thanksgiving, welcome home to America the beautiful.”
Cantor Jack Chomsky, Cantor at Congregation Tifereth Israel, Columbus:
“Immigration has played a pivotal role in the lives of the Jewish people in the United States, and we are grateful for the opportunities that immigration has provided Jewish immigrants for hundreds of years. We are keenly aware of the tragedy that befell Jews when the gates of immigration swung mostly closed and Jews were not welcome during their time of great need. I am hopeful that the president will at last set us on the right course with actions that he announces and begins tonight.”
Rev. F. Allan Debelak, Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Columbus:
“As the president announces actions that will allow our nation to continue to welcome immigrants into our country as we have for generations, we will continue to reap the innumerable blessings that come from being a country of diversity. People are always anxious when faced with change, but with this change comes the opportunity for growth.”
Rev. Dr. Troy Jackson, Director of The AMOS Project:
“For the past two years, the prayers, petitions and laments of immigrants and people of faith have gone unanswered by Congress. I applaud President Obama’s decision to do all he can to respond, and urge Congress to follow suit with robust and humane immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship that upholds the dignity of every human being.”
Father Michael Pucke, Pastor at St. Julie Billiart Catholic Parish, Cincinnati:
“Many people are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington and are convinced that our immigration system is broken. While an executive order is not the optimum way to initiate needed changes, the fact that the House of Representatives would not consider the 2013 Senate legislation indicates that this is the only way forward. As someone who cares deeply about all families, I am happy to see this logjam broken up.”
Sister Mary Wendeln, Sister of the Most Precious Blood, member of Nuns on the Bus Ohio:
“I am excited and optimistic for the families who will benefit from President Obama’s action. It is about time that we stop playing games with the lives of our immigrant brothers and sisters – God’s chosen ones.”
Rev. Patrick Murphy, Spring Lake United Methodist Church, Spring Lak
“As I reflect on President Obama’s action on immigration, I remember that the God we love came to us as an immigrant child whose family was forced to flee from an oppressive government. Our immigrant brothers and sisters from have faces, names, and hopes that are no different from anyone else who calls the United States home: a chance to work, raise families, and above all, belong. I celebrate with those who have been afforded new opportunities tonight, and I continue to grieve with those whose lives still hang in the balance as they yearn for justice. May we be people of faith who welcome and stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters, remembering the compassion of Jesus Christ that extends to people from every nation, tribe, and language.”
Rev. Ismael Ruiz Millan, Director of the Hispanic House of Studies, Duke Divinity School:
“I came to the U.S. 11 years ago, and as many other immigrants my plan was to stay only for one year and go back to Mexico. I stayed because I received and accepted God’s call to serve all God’s people. It was the hospitality of many people who helped me and guided me to faithfully respond to this call. As a pastor, I have also seen the hostility that often immigrants face. Jesus Christ migrated from being in the form of God to be with and serve all humanity. The President’s announcement definitely brings relief, but a more comprehensive immigration reform is still needed.”
Rev. Edgar A. Vergara Millan, City Road United Methodist Church, Henderson
“When I reflect on this nation’s broken immigration system, I think of the thousands of desperate prayers that are lifted up before God’s throne on a daily basis asking for the opportunity to live a plentiful life here in the United States. Jesus Christ, the one who hears and is moved to compassion by those prayers was himself a stranger in a foreign land. Are we also moved to compassion?”
Rev. Lindsay Carswell, Hospital Chaplain at Duke University Medical Center:
“The American economy has heavily relied on the labor of underpaid, overworked, disrespected undocumented immigrants. The produce we eat, the buildings we inhabit, the hotel rooms we visit – they have been cared for by the hands of our new neighbors. It is time that we thank them for their service and treat them with respect.”
Rev. Brock Meyer, Stem United Methodist Church, Stem:
“During the summer months, I witness migrant neighbors from Mexico who work on local farms to support our economy without many benefits. It is startling to me to realize that much of the food that is on my table has come from the labor of migrant hands. But our legal system is not accommodating for a people who contribute to the welfare of our country. As a Christian I am moved to compassion to love my neighbor. Secondly as an American, I thought that this was to be a place of opportunity and liberty? Why do we need to continue to see a system that oppresses people for the benefit of a wealthy few?”
Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist Church:
“President Obama’s decision today will free millions of new Americans from the yoke of constant fear that their families may be pulled apart at any moment. This is a moment of hope,and a step toward the day when all have a real path to pursue the American dream.”
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, Ray of Hope Christian Church:
“No parent in our nation should have to fear being deported and separated from their children. That’s why I support the president taking action when Congress has blocked common-sense reform.”
Rev. Gary Charles, Central Presbyterian Church:
“Again and again, Scripture calls us to care for the alien and immigrant. Congress seems to be deaf to these words, but I applaud President Obama for using his legal authority to protect parents and children from the needless deportations that separate families and wound our economy.”
Rev. Dr. Damon Laaker, Grace Lutheran Church, Omaha:
“After months of obstruction by Congress, we’re finally seeing progress toward immigration reform that repairs our broken system and puts families before politics. I pray that the House of Representatives takes this opportunity to get back to work on a comprehensive solution.”
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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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