Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced today that the Obama administration will push for passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation early next year, rather than waiting until after the midterm elections. This comes as welcome news for the countless families that are separated by the current system, as well as faith leaders at the forefront of the movement for humane and just immigration policy.
In election years and off years alike, diverse religious organizations work continually for comprehensive immigration reform that protects workers, families and detainees who are exploited, imprisoned and deported by our unjust and inhumane system. A new campaign in this ongoing effort, which will roll out next week, aims to ensure that Congress and the White House keep the issue on the front burner over the holiday season. More on Monday!
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A few thoughts coming off the midweek holiday:
- To my grandfather who served at the Battle of the Bulge and my father who served in the Air Force, happy belated Veterans’ Day. That goes for all current and former military personnel.
- To religious right fearmongers who claim Muslims should be discriminated against or prohibited from serving in the military in the wake of the Ft. Hood massacre, I’d like to direct your attention to some especially poignant remarks by Colin Powell on Meet the Press last year.
- Kudos to CNN for showing Lou Dobbs the door. It reflects well on the network and is a step forward for civil debate on immigration, which will be especially important in the coming months as congregations across the country mobilize to pass comprehensive reform.
- The LDS Church has endorsed a Salt Lake City ordinance that protects LGBT people from workplace and housing discrimination. What a surprising and uplifting development.
- Faith leaders worldwide have responded to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s solicitation of their leadership in the fight against climate change.
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Today’s Arizona Republic had a somewhat skewed but nonetheless fascinating story about the faith community’s role in the immigration reform debate.
The story, which to its credit acknowledges that “immigration supporters have done a better job of attracting Christian and Jewish clergy,” “balances” a 2,500-person pro-reform rally and Congressional testimony by five religious leaders against a press conference by an anti-immigration think tank, featuring two religious speakers. It doesn’t mention the National Association of Evangelicals’ recent endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform or the decades-long advocacy of numerous denominations, but it devotes a five-paragraph section to the views of two advocates who may or may not have a religious constituency. In short, it barely scratches the surface of the faith community’s broad support for immigration reform, and makes a mountain out of a molehill on the other side.
This imbalance aside, though, it also described the religion dynamic in the immigration reform debate rather well:
The fact that anti-immigration advocates are jumping into the religious debate is evidence that they view their opponents’ biblical arguments as especially powerful, said Philip Williams, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida.
“To me, it’s an indication that they see the power of the moral argument as more persuasive than the legal argument,” said Williams, who has done research on the convergence of religion and politics in the Latino community.
Until now, immigration opponents have emphasized that undocumented immigrants are breaking the law and that rules need to be enforced to secure the borders.
“But those who are advocates of immigration reform have focused on the immigrants as human beings, and asked whether we should treat them as criminals or as brothers and sisters who deserve our compassion and understanding,” Williams said.
That’s a tough argument to counter.
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If you read this blog, chances are you’re well aware that religious organizations and congregations have worked for years to meet the needs of immigrants and reform our broken immigration system. Now, as Congress and the administration focus on tackling healthcare, global warming and other pressing issues, diverse people of faith are stepping up to ensure that immigration reform is not forgotten. A new report released today by the Center For American Progress — Loving Thy Neighbor: Immigration Reform and Communities of Faith — details the faith community’s widespread efforts to enact just, humane reform.
An excerpt from the executive summary:
This report is a collection of present-day immigrant stories. Unlike the more familiar narrative of oppression in a foreign land, these are stories of faith in the flesh, of people filled with the conviction of their religious beliefs and pushed to act in defense of needy neighbors in their community.
The report also intends to be an antidote to the mistaken belief that ordinary people of faith are not involved in political advocacy or shy from pressing their influence in national debates and policies affecting immigrants. As these stories demonstrate, many efforts sprang up at the grassroots, independent of each other and often without awareness that anyone or any other group was concerned about this issue. People of faith pitched in to help fellow humans whose lives seemed very different from their own, and they were spurred on by a sense of moral outrage at the detentions of undocumented immigrants in their communities.
The stories in this report, and others like it, should play a more prominent role in the public conversation, which too often ignores the brutality and injustice of our immigration system. Because of its role working directly with immigrants and their families, the faith community is in a unique position to speak tell the stories of separated families, unjustly and inhumanely detained immigrants, and victims of workplace exploitation and hate crimes.
The entire report, which includes a map of congregations and religious groups across the country working for just, humane immigration reform is available here.
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There’s been a lot of hubbub over health care reform lately–from the great stuff, like the 300,000 people who listened to our call-in and webcast with faith leaders and President Obama, to the not-so-great stuff, like the man who showed up at a townhall meeting with a gun after hearing a sermon about why the President deserved to die.
While health care is a critically important issue, so too is immigration reform. Despite a recent White House meeting on immigration and some hopeful remarks in August by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, for the most part, immigration reform isn’t attracting much attention right now. Also, the White House has indicated that while immigration reform is a priority, it’s not likely be taken up until 2010.
It may not be in the limelight, but religious advocates aren’t letting it slip off the radar. The faith community is pushing Members of Congress and the Obama administration to pass just and humane immigration reform this year. Fixing the broken system just can’t wait–children are torn from their parents because of an endless mess of red tape and wage theft is on the rise. We aren’t honoring the dignity and humanity of immigrant men, women, and children.
There is important national-level work going on, like a recent letter signed by hundreds of groups (including faith-based ones) calling on the Obama administration to terminate the 287(g) program, which allows for enforcement of federal immigration laws by local police. (These groups are calling attention to the ways the program has led to civil rights violations and racial profiling.)
Grassroots faith leaders are stepping up to the plate in their local communities. On Sunday, August 30, people of faith gathered in Cincinnati to discuss the urgent need for health care reform, and they heard from an immigrant whose daughter didn’t even recognize him by the time they were reunited, after a series of bureaucratic ordeals. On Thursday, people of faith will hold a town hall meeting in Greensboro, NC, calling for immigration reform. And in the Chicago suburbs last week, the faith community held a touching vigil to support immigrant families and call for reform.
The principled and dedicated work of faith leaders across the country is ensuring that immigration reform doesn’t get put on the back burner. Too much is at stake–too many families are being separated, too many immigrants are suffering in an inhumane detention system, and too many are losing their wages or their health care. We’re called to do more for our brothers and sisters, both neighbors and strangers.
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