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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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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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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It’s outrageous and heartbreaking that George Zimmerman was not held accountable for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin at point-blank range. This injustice affected Americans so deeply because it emblemized numerous intersecting pathologies of our society: a rampant culture of gun violence, inexcusable gun laws, deeply ingrained racism, and the devaluation of young black men’s lives.
At times like this it can be difficult to picture the day when tragedies like Trayvon’s killing no longer occur. But abolition and integration were once considered pipe dreams too, and the largely peaceful nationwide outpouring of grief after Zimmerman’s acquittal is a testament to faith leaders’ power to channel outrage into peaceful action, as Rev. William Barber II did at Moral Monday in North Carolina. While our hearts are troubled, our spirits must remain strong.
Catholic colleges call a path to citizenship ‘moral, urgent, practical’
A new group of influential leaders from the faith community weighed in on the immigration debate today. A press teleconference call this morning organized by Faith in Public Life unveiled a letter signed by 93 Catholic college presidents calling on Catholic members of the House of Representatives – including House Speaker John Boehner – to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a road to earned citizenship. The letter also ran as an ad in today’s print edition of Politico, as well as in targeted online ads. It said in part:
Our broken immigration system, which tears parents from children, traps aspiring Americans in the shadows and undermines the best values of this nation, is morally indefensible.
We hope that as you face intense political pressure from powerful interest groups, you will draw wisdom and moral courage from our shared faith tradition. Catholic teaching values the human dignity and worth of all immigrants, regardless of legal status. We remind you that no human being made in the image of God is illegal.
The letter is signed by nationally prominent Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Georgetown and the Catholic University of America, as well as many colleges in districts represented by strategically important Republican lawmakers. As House Members weigh whether to support, obstruct or dilute reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship, the chorus of voices calling for a path to citizenship is growing louder.
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Prominent Catholic university presidents urged Catholics in the House of Representatives today to stop delaying and pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. The high-profile push from the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown, The Catholic University of America and more than 90 other university leaders signals a major ratcheting up of Catholic pressure on Congress at a time when the number of Catholics on Capitol Hill has reached a historic high. The leaders of more than a third of the nation’s 244 Catholic colleges and universities were represented on the letter, which also ran as a full-page ad in Politico newspaper.
Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, would be wise to tune out those Tea Party ideologues now backing him into a corner and meet with these university leaders who speak so persuasively about the moral and practical case for reform. While we’re at it, Rep. Paul Ryan could also benefit from some pressure given reports today that he is getting weak knees on a path to citizenship. In contrast, these university leaders are resolute:
Together we represent universities that educate more than 290,000 students. Leaders on Catholic campuses advocated for the DREAM Act, and we stand with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in urging Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a road to earned citizenship.
Our broken immigration system, which tears parents from children, traps aspiring Americans in the shadows, and undermines the best values of this nation, is morally indefensible…As Catholics engaged in public service, you have a serious responsibility to consider the moral dimensions of policy decisions. Our immigration system is so deeply flawed, and in such urgent need of repair, that inaction is unacceptable.
Along with Catholic college presidents, the letter also includes signatories from 60 Catholic theologians and academics, as well as a retired U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican who worked in the first Bush administration and endorsed Mitt Romney for president.
The effort, spearheaded by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and Faith in Public Life, is part of a broader advocacy push by Catholics on immigration reform. Faith in Public Life will be working to bring Catholic university presidents to Capitol Hill in the fall to urge members to pass a path to citizenship. The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops will circulate the presidents’ letter as part of its robust advocacy efforts.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, touted the Catholic presidents’ push in a statement today:
I welcome the support of the Catholic presidents for immigration reform. They are a welcome voice in this debate, as they see the potential and talent in newly arriving immigrants. Immigrants, especially youth, are important for our nation’s future and competitiveness. Educators understand the importance of investing in immigrant youth so they can become tomorrow’s leaders.
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