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.
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.
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 immigration reform movement incorporates many moral arguments: welcoming the stranger, promoting the common good, economic justice, humane treatment, etc. Our friends at America’s Voice are promoting another important one right now — keeping families together. Today they’re launching a letter-writing campaign to urge members of Congress to enact immigration reform that, among other things, keeps parents from being separated from their children by deportation. (In the past several years, over 100,000 immigrant parents of citizen children have been removed from the US.) The video below provides a compelling explanation of the need for reform that keeps families together. The voice-over is by our friend Derrick Harkins.
To join their campaign and send a letter to your representative, click here. Children of immigrants are petitioning the government to keep their families together. Let’s back them up!
This is a great development for the ever-widening coalition for reform, as well as for the evangelical church. For the immigration reform movement, gaining the president of the NAE as a partner calling for action this year builds momentum that decision-makers will notice, at a time when they might be inclined to put it on the back burner.For the NAE, it represents a continuing commitment to the broader agenda championed by former VP for government affairs Rich Cizik and affirmed by the leaders who joined the Whole Gospel Agenda statement calling for the NAE to continue on this course.