Steadfast for citizenship

September 11, 2013, 6:26 pm | Posted by

Even though the House of Representatives leadership has been stalling the immigration reform debate for months now, faith leaders are still ratcheting up the pressure.

This past Sunday, congregations in Catholic dioceses across the country gave homilies and held events calling on Congress to pass immigration reform that protects immigrant families and builds a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans. The following day, leaders of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition announced the launch of Fast Action for Immigration Reform, a 40-day prayer and fasting campaign thousands of people of faith nationwide will participate in as Congress gets back to work this fall.

Today a Faith and Business Roundtable organized by Faith in Public Life at the University of St. Thomas in Houston will feature prominent local evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic leaders calling on Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) to support reform that includes a path to citizenship. Poe is an important figure in the Congressional debate, and St. Thomas is in his district.The Christian Community Development Association’s national conference this week is also mobilizing evangelical leaders to continue praying and working for reform.

All of these actions come on the heels of an August congressional recess in which thousands of faith leaders from coast to coast held scores of events urging House Members to support immigration reform.

Anti-immigrant politicians who thought they could quietly kill reform by delaying the legislative process underestimated the faith community’s commitment. We’re not going to waver just because it’s taking longer than expected.

A moment of truth

Immigration reform has attracted bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress – at least 26 Republican House Members support a path to citizenship. If Speaker John Boehner would allow a House vote on the bipartisan Senate bill today, there would be a White House signing ceremony within a week. It really is that simple.

Boehner faces a test of leadership and a test of conscience. He can continue to side with anti-immigrant demagogues like Steve King, or he can listen to the faith community and reform a failed system that destroys families and makes a mockery of our nation’s values. As House Members signal that they’ll resume work on immigration next month, the moment of truth could come very soon.

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August 30, 2013, 11:43 am | Posted by

Pressure Continues to Build as Lawmakers Wrap Up August Recess

As the pro-immigration reform movement continues to build momentum across the United States, PICO National Network Action Fund, the Diocese of Reno, Nevada, and Faith in Public Life Action Fund launched radio ads in key markets this week urging constituents to call their representatives and voice their support for comprehensive immigration reform. In their respective communities, clergy leaders and local students encourage constituents to call House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Reps. Mark Amodei (NV-2),  Dennis Ross (FL-15),  Gus Billrakis (FL-12) and Lee Terry (NE-2) to support moral immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

The ads started running on Monday, August 26.

The Diocese of Reno and PICO National Network Action Fund teamed up for an ad featuring high-school student Sam Mendoza, whose father is undocumented, and Fr. Francisco Nahoe, OFM, of St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno directed at Rep. Amodei.

In Omaha, the spot features Maria Hernandez, a local college student whose parents are undocumented, and Sr. Kathleen Erickson of the Sisters of Mercy, West Midwest Mercy Community Justice Office. The ad encourages constituents to urge Terry to support a pathway to citizenship so families like Maria’s aren’t “…threatened with separation because of our broken immigration laws.”

 “Congressman Terry has a clear choice to make,” said Kathleen Grant, Co-Chair of Omaha Together One Community’s Immigration Action Team. “Will he side with extremists like Steve King, or with Omaha families like Maria’s? The faith community will not rest until comprehensive immigration reform is enacted. Because without reform, families remain separated and millions of immigrants will be relegated to a permanent underclass – we people of faith will not stand for that.”

In ads launched in Florida targeting Reps. Ross and Billrakis, recent high school graduate Rosalba Ortiz joins with Pastor Leo Trevino of Church of God in Lakeview to say “she’s just a regular American kid, but ‘every day I pray [my family] won’t be deported.’” Pastor Trevino adds that constituents should call their representatives so families like Rosalba’s “…can live out their God-given gifts in America.”

In Bakersfield, CA, where the pro-immigration reform movement grows stronger every day, the radio ads feature DREAMer and CSU Bakersfield graduate Lorena Lara alongside Sr. Marie Francis Schroepfer of the Diocese of Fresno urging constituents to call House Majority Whip McCarthy so aspiring Americans like Lorena “can work towards an earned path to citizenship.”

Throughout the month of August, the PICO National Network turned up the heat on members of the House of Representatives, pressuring members to declare their support for a direct, inclusive and affordable pathway to citizenship for all 11 million aspiring Americans. Through events in 12 states and 30 congressional districts attended by nearly 50,000 faith and community leaders the Summer for Citizenship will powerfully demonstrate what polls have already shown, that people of faith overwhelmingly support a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented Americans.

From their presence at local town hall meetings to the placement of radio ads across the United States, clergy and other leaders in the pro-immigration movement are keeping up the pressure. They will not stop until aspiring Americans, like these students and their families, are brought out of the shadows and able to fully participate in America’s democracy and economy. The time is now for the U.S. House of Representatives to bring legislation to a vote and pass immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.


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A March to remember

August 29, 2013, 4:05 pm | Posted by

Church bells rang out across the country yesterday as thousands of Americans gathered in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Speakers at the Lincoln Memorial pointed out both the tremendous progress made and the steep road ahead on our journey to fulfilling the ideals that were so resoundingly expressed half a century ago.

At the March and in congregations hosting commemorative services, leaders addressed issues such as jobs, living wages, economic inequality, education, mass incarceration, healthcare, immigration reform, and discrimination against minority voters. That sounds like quite a laundry list of issues, but they are systemically linked and woven together by a thread of common values – dignity, equality and justice.

As the marchers return to their home communities, the fight for these values carries on. Today fast food workers in 60 cities mounted the largest strike ever for living wages in their industry. Included were places where key events of the civil rights movement took place, such as Raleigh, Chicago and Memphis.

Led by the faith community, people across the country are marching, holding vigils and pressing lawmakers every single day to pass immigration reform that protects immigrant workers and families, builds a roadmap to citizenship and ends the gross miscarriages of justice caused by our broken system. The list of struggles for justice animated by Dr. King’s dream is long.

When President Obama said yesterday that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own,” I nodded along in agreement, but I also felt a flutter of fear in my chest because none of us alone is equal to this great task. Our success, which is far from guaranteed, depends on our ability to inspire, organize and mobilize. Only then can we make the cost of perpetuating injustice unbearable.

When, God willing, my son goes to the Lincoln Memorial 50 years from now to mark the century anniversary of the March on Washington, I want him to be standing shoulder to shoulder with people of all races in a nation where full justice and equality are no longer such a distant dream. Whether that happens is far outside my control. But I do have a small say over whether he knows that his parents’ generation did all they could.


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No rest during recess

August 1, 2013, 5:07 pm | Posted by

Last Saturday, my friend Troy Jackson of Ohio Prophetic Voices and fellow Ohio clergy led a 500-person march to House Speaker John Boehner’s office in Springfield, Ohio, to call on the Speaker to pass immigration reform including a roadmap to citizenship. Their message was simple: a path to citizenship is smart, moral and urgent. Earlier in the week, hundreds of evangelical leaders from 27 states met face to face with their Representatives on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to pass immigration reform.

Those actions were just a preview of what faith leaders will do during the critical August Congressional recess. Republican lawmakers now face a clear choice: heed the moral authority of families and faith leaders calling for citizenship, or continue to let Rep. Steve King set the party’s immigration agenda. While some GOP leaders distanced themselves from King’s recent accusation that DREAMers being drug smugglers (a claim faith leaders who work on the border forcefully rebuked), don’t forget that an overwhelming majority of Republican House Members voted in favor of King’s recent bill to resume mass deportation of DREAMers.

Not your father’s pope

Since his election to the papacy this spring, Pope Francis has earned headlines and widespread praise for symbolic gestures and substantive remarks about a variety of issues. His bold message about the dignity of immigrants and his damning indictment of both the values and the effects of unfettered global capitalism have resonated around the world and energized the faithful here in the U.S. As a Presbyterian minister, I believe his influence is already stretching well beyond the Catholic church.

For a personal reflection on the impact Pope Francis is having on people in the pews, check out this Washington Post On Faith essay by my colleague John Gehring, Faith in Public Life’s Catholic Program Director.

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Catholic leaders condemn Steve King’s hateful rhetoric

July 29, 2013, 5:54 pm | Posted by

Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a Catholic, revealed the ignorance and prejudice behind his anti-immigrant policy stances (again) last week, saying about DREAMers, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that — they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

After being rebuked by Democrats and House Republican leaders alike, King defended himself by claiming that his views were rooted in his experience traveling along the US-Mexico border. On Monday, Catholic leaders who serve immigrant populations in border communities and have expertise in immigration policy pointed out that King’s views are as ill-informed as they are offensive.

Sister Rosemary Welsh, Executive Director of Casa de Misericordia in Laredo, TX, which provides shelter, legal assistance and other crucial services for immigrants, said

“These hateful remarks demean the immigrant families I work with every day and have no place in debates about the urgent need for smart and humane immigration reform. I invite Rep. King to spend time with us on the border, read the Gospels and reflect on his faith’s teachings about the dignity of immigrants. Now is the time for constructive solutions not offensive rhetoric.”

Father Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, AZ, which provides humanitarian assistance and education in border communities, said

“Through my ministry on the U.S./Mexico border, I witness firsthand the courage and dignity of those who dream of a better life for their families. I urge Congressman King to remember Jesus’ words that ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:35), and to stop obstructing just and humane immigration reform.”

Father Rafael Garcia, S.J., of Immaculate Conception Church in Albuquerque, NM, said

As a former pastor of a border parish in El Paso for 13 years, I find Rep. King’s caricature narrow-minded at best. Hopefully he will apologize for his derisive comments — and better yet, have a change of heart.

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby, which organized the Nuns on the Border tour earlier this summer that highlighted the work of Catholic Sisters in border cities from Texas to California, said

“Rep. King is simply out of touch with the reality of migrants’ experiences and chooses to ridicule women, children and families trapped in a broken immigration system instead of joining with business, labor and faith leaders working for practical and moral solutions. His reckless and irresponsible approach is not in keeping with the values of our nation or our shared Catholic faith.”

Rev. Thomas Greene, S.J, the Secretary for Social and International Ministries at the Jesuit Conference in Washington, DC, said

“At a time that when our nation needs elected officials to engage in reasoned, well-informed conversations about the urgency of immigration reform, Congressman King chose to inject inflammatory and ill-informed remarks into the debate. Such statements demean the millions of hard-working immigrants in the U.S. and are a mean-spirited attempt to derail long overdue comprehensive immigration reform.”

In addition, the Sioux City Journal reports that the Catholic bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, which is in King’s district, rebuked the Congressman Monday:

“I am disappointed by Rep. King’s remarks, which speak of migrants in a way that undermines their human dignity and the respect owed them as children of God,” Rev. R. Walker Nickless said in a statement. “While Catholics may disagree on the specific approach to reforming the immigration system, they should agree that the immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and humane manner.”

It will take more than words alone for House Republicans to distance themselves from King’s hateful rhetoric. If they want Americans to believe King doesn’t speak for them, they need to pass reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans who remain trapped in the shadows.

This post has been updated since first publication.

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