This weekend, tens of thousands of Americans will converge on Washington, DC, for a historic March For America: Change Takes Courage and Faith, a unified demonstration in support of immigration reform from faith groups across the ideological spectrum as well civil rights, immigrant, family and labor groups. Many will gather before the March for an interfaith service, and on Monday faith leaders will meet with high-level White House officials and Members of Congress to advocate for reform of our broken, unjust immigration system that separates families and robs human beings of the dignity each child of God deserves.
And while the demonstrate that the faith community is mobilized like never before on this issue at the national level, there’s also a lot going on at the local level. In addition to the scores of prayer vigils and public events across the country over the past few months, religious leaders have met directly with key Members of Congress. A must-read column in Monday’s Houston Chronicle recounts a recent meeting between prominent clergy and Senator Cornyn:
When U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his aides walked into Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s conference room at the Catholic Chancery one afternoon three weeks ago to talk about immigration reform, they were greeted by the archbishop, Lutheran Bishop Michael Rinehart and a dozen rabbis and clergy members from a variety of denominations.
They were also greeted by about 6,000 postcards piled in stacks on the large conference table around which the group would sit.
The men of the cloth wanted to talk to him about what they see as the biblical and moral imperative of immigration reform. But they also wanted to send a practical political message.
At a time when anger is the currency of the political realm, much of it aimed at illegal immigrants, the religious leaders were saying to Cornyn that they will have his back if he risks becoming a target of that anger by helping craft and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
In addition to demonstrating the faith community’s commitment to immigration reform, these leaders showed the role they can play in establishing a civil dialogue. The last time immigration reform came up, the vitriol was nauseating. Republican and Democratic leaders alike surely know that supporting immigration reform in 2010 will open them up to vicious attacks from anti-immigrant groups. If faith leaders speak out publicly to condemn hateful rhetoric, not only will our public dialogue better reflect our values, it’ll create a safer political environment for elected officials who want to support reform but are wary of the backlash.
As the faith community’s nationwide push for comprehensive immigration reform gains steam, religious leaders are working to set a civil tone in the debate. Illustrating the need for this, Campus Progress reported that the anti-immigrant group Numbers USA held a strategy conference call with leaders of Tea Party organizations to plot ways to thwart the March 21st March For America, which included some rather troubling rhetoric:
CALLER 1: I would like to speak out on something. I feel the new welfare queen in America today is women coming from Mexico with a bunch of babies. So I feel they’re all coming over here and having all these babies, they are the new welfare queen in America….
New people in America today with a lot of babies, ’cause they coming from Mexico having a bunch of babies. And our tax dollars is taking care of them babies, ’cause the mothers are illegal. So to me, we need to speak out about letting them know they’re the new welfare queens in America.
CALLER 2: That was well said brother!
MACDONALD [moderator, from Numbers USA]: We will make a note of that. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
CALLER 3: One piece of information would be, they aren’t babies, they’re dependents. Don’t use babies. It’s emotional to them. They have dependents. We have babies. [Emphasis added.]
This wasn’t just a couple of cranks blowing off steam. This was a strategy session by national anti-immigration organizers discussing how to effectively deceive the public and dehumanize immigrants. Spreading inflammatory misinformation and calling an immigrant’s children less fully human than a citizen’s is beyond distasteful – it is immoral. Hopefully immigration reform opponents don’t bring it into the public square.
As recentmediacoverage has shown, the faith community is mobilizing nationwide to urge leaders in Washington to act now to repair our broken immigration system. Just yesterday, almost 100 faith leaders marched ten miles from Ellis Island to a immigrant detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey to call attention to the plight of detainees and call for reform. And in Orlando, prominent clergy gathered to call for a more humane system that keeps families together, gaining tv news coverage that carried their message loud and clear. Have a look:
Over the coming days and weeks, more and more faith leaders across the country will continue lifting up the issue of immigration reform as an urgent moral and political priority. Hopefully our political leaders will hear them, and act to repair a system that tears families apart and keeps millions of people in the shadows.
Together, not Torn: Families Can’t Wait for Immigration Reform” got off to a strong start yesterday with a powerful telephone press conference with national leaders and Members of Congress. But the grassroots events that are part of this movement are also pretty inspiring.
Check out this footage from a local event in Grand Junction, CO yesterday. Faith leaders stood alongside business, political, and immigrant leaders to push for immigration reform that keeps our families together and protects the dignity of all workers.
Today, the faith community officially launched a massive new mobilization around immigration reform. The nationwide effort, “Together, not Torn: Families Can’t Wait for Immigration Reform,” includes delivering hundreds of thousands of pro-reform postcards from people of faith to Members of Congress and one hundred local events across the country, from Maine to Texas to Washington state.
Evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders, along with Members of Congress, kicked off the new initiative this morning on a telephone press conference with journalists.
Check out the full press release here and an audio recording of the call here.
The testimony was moving, from National Association of Evangelicals’ Galen Carey’s heartwrenching story about the mother in Arizona whose immigration status bars her from seeking justice for her son’s death by a drunk driver, to Rev. Jen Kottler’s powerful invocation of Scripture, to Rabbi Abie Ingber’s impassioned remarks:
“Let us commit today, that this tragedy of injustice in immigration will end; that families will no longer be separated; that fathers and mothers will not cower in darkness fearful of a raid; that men and women of every color in the world will have the opportunity to earn a wage openly, to pay their taxes, to study the English language, to go to school and to pursue citizenship in this great land.”
Especially coming on the heels of the report from America’s Voice about the importance of immigration reform to politically critical Latino voters, we’re hoping that leaders on Capitol Hill are paying close attention to the growing call for reform this year. America’s families simply cannot wait.