Advocacy and Immigration
Here’s why I’m passionate about advocacy, and hope you are too:
It’s what the prophets did. It was a religious and moral imperative to speak up on behalf of those with little power, little voice, little money. Prophets spoke a word of justice and compassion to kings. Failing to do this is abdicating responsibility and turning our faith into an irrelevant club with a religious motif.
Advocacy is not lobbying. Lobbying is exerting influence on behalf of those with wealth and power. Advocacy is exerting influence on behalf of those without wealth and power. We are called to be a voice for the voiceless.
In this season of Advent, I’m mindful of John the Baptist, The Voice, who spoke a hard word to Herod – a word Herod did not want to hear. It cost John his head. Advocacy requires courage, even in a society where we are likely not to lose our heads for speaking up. Expect to take heat. In the Beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the anchor for Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells the crowd: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
As the church, we approach this not as a political issue, but as a moral issue and a biblical issue. I’m passionate about this because I encounter in the pages of Scripture an overwhelming concern for the alien, sojourner and stranger. The prophetic call to do justice on behalf of the orphan, widow and alien is compelling. It seems entirely un-Christian to turn our back on the poor, the stranger, the refugee in our own land.
We are a people of compassion. We are also a people who believe in the rule of law. We recognize our immigration system is broken. On this everyone agrees. There is nothing wrong with wanting secure borders. We need laws that are fair and generous. We need to recognize that immigrants have helped build our cities. They have benefitted our economy. We believe that righteousness and peace can “kiss each other.”
So here are some thoughts to consider.
· “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:33-34
· “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21
· “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 23:9
· “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” – Matthew 25:35
· “…whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” – Matthew 25:40
· Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. – Hebrews 13
These are just a small sample of the many, many verses on the treatment of aliens in the Bible. The story of migration is the story of history. Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden. Abraham was an immigrant. The Israelites were forced to be aliens in a foreign land under slavery. Later they migrated into a new land. “Remember you were once sojourners in the land of Egypt…”
- · People are breaking our laws. Christians believe in submitting to the laws of the land. (Rom. 13)
- · Our borders are not secure. Of particular concern is the influx of drugs and other criminal elements.
- Families are being separated and damaged. In all of our communities, we are seeing many people who are being hurt by our broken immigration system. Students return home to parentless apartments. Children held in cages along the border.
- · People are being victimized. Immigrants hiding in the shadows are vulnerable and being abused. Whenever Christians see situations such as these, we are compelled to speak out.
- · Immigration is being criminalized. Illegal immigration is a civil offense, not a criminal one, yet immigrants (both documented and undocumented) are being treated as criminals.
- · The Federal Government has responsibility for securing our borders. Strenuous efforts to do so have not been done since the Eisenhower administration, until now. The federal government needs to do this work, in a humane manner.
- · There were 1.68 million undocumented immigrants in Texas in 2009according to the Department of Homeland Security.
- · There were 10.8 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. in 2009according to the Department of Homeland Security. This number is down from 2007: 11.8 million.
- · Roughly half of those immigrants entered the country legally, but have overstayed their visas.
- · 62% are from Mexico.
- · Immigrants pay Social Security Tax and Income Tax. It comes out of their paycheck like everyone else, though they are not eligible to collect. Some say they are floating Social Security. When Congress asked him what would fix Social Security, Alan Greenspan’s second fix was immigration, because immigrants are paying in but not taking out.
- · In 2006, undocumented workers paid $424.7 million more in taxes than was spent on them in the form of education. At the local level, immigrants cost more than they pay into the system. At the federal level immigration is a financial benefit (see Social Security, above).
- · Although crime is actually lower in some high-immigration areas, there is no reliable data on whether illegal immigration increases or decreases the crime rate (Carol Keeton Strayhorn, Texas Comptroller).
- Read some interesting articles in Texas Monthly. Go to outreach, password 700lightstreet. Click “My Library” and you will see the issue.
What must be done
Immigration needs to be fixed at the national level. Local law enforcement cannot keep our streets safe and also police the borders, and hunt down suspected undocumented workers. A patchwork of inconsistent state laws will only create chaos. The only reason states are enacting these laws is because the federal government has not taken care of the problem. On this all sides agree: We need some kind of immigration reform. The religious leaders of Houston are in agreement that these critical actions must be taken. These actions are also consistent with the ELCA Statement on Immigration and the policies of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
· Uphold family unity as a top priority in all policies.
o Reunite families separated by unreasonably long visa backlogs.
o Revise family preference categories and per country caps to prioritize family unity.
o Remove bars to reentry and adjustment of status for individuals seeking to reunite with their family members.
· Create a process for undocumented immigrants to earn legal status. Not amnesty. Conversations have shown broad support across party lines for the following:
o They must pay a fine.
o They must have employment.
o They must learn English.
o They must pass a criminal background check or be deported.
o Although religious leaders don’t agree on the issue of employer verification, I support a thorough employer verification system. There is no way to police the border completely, but if there is no work, they won’t come.
· Protect workers and provide channels for migrant workers to enter. Expand legal avenues for workers who seek to migrate to the United States to work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner, including the ability to
o Bring their families with them
o Travel as needed
o Change their place of employment
o Apply for lawful permanent residency and eventually citizenship.
· Facilitate immigrant integration.
o Citizenship should be made more affordable
o The processing of application backlogs and security checks should be streamlined to reduce waiting times.
o Counterproductive laws prohibiting immigrants from accessing social services and mandating that local police act as immigration officials should be revoked. These barriers to integration decrease community safety and discourage immigrants from pursuing education and community involvement. Faith based organizations and congregations around the country will continue to assist in integration efforts by providing social services and helping immigrants learn English, find jobs, and thrive in the United States.
Restore due process protection and reform detention.
o Immigration policies should respect human rights and ensure due process for all persons.
o Raids separate families, destroy communities, and threaten the basic rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.
o The suffering caused by the increase and severity of Immigration and Customs.
o Incarceration on detainees, their families and our communities has a huge toll.
o Detention must be reduced.Detention conditions must be improved. by enacting clear, enforceable reforms that include rigorous medical treatment standards and increased access to pastoral care, legal counsel and legal orientation programs.
o The government should expedite the release of individuals who pose no risk to the community and expand the use of community-based alternatives to detention, which are more humane and cost effective.
I believe that immigration has been good for Houston. We have one of the healthiest economies in the country. Our growth over the last 20 years has been due to immigration. (The Anglo population has actually declined slightly.) So much of what has made Houston robust is due to the influx of hard workers willing to take low-paying jobs to gradually climb the social ladder.
More important however is the fact that people being hurt. As people of faith we cannot stand by and watch a broken system victimize our neighbor or the stranger. We owe it to ourselves, our neighbors and our children to work for a fair, legal and humane system.
Take Action: What you can do.
- · The most important thing you can do is to educate yourself. Research facts from many sources. Read opinions from the right and left, to get a sense of the “messy middle,” a very Lutheran thing to do.
- · Engage your people in conversations about the issue. Wouldn’t it be nice to have people applying their faith to something other than human sexuality for a while? Give them good facts. Study the alien/sojourner/stranger texts of the Bible, and let them marinate.
- · Let your Senators and local Representatives know what you think. You are a citizen of this country. You have a right to an opinion. Very often our leaders only get calls from the extremes. Offer your support and appreciation for their leadership along with your opinion. Be a voice of justice to the government leaders, as were the prophets.
- · Speak to the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). S. 729, which will grant legal status to those who were brought to this country as children (under 16), who have been in the U.S. for five years, have graduated from a U.S. high school, and who complete two years of military service, or college. Most Americans would find it absurd to deport a young adult who has lived most of his or her life in the U.S. and worked hard to serve the country in the military or get through college. (Every year about 8,000 permanent resident aliens enlist.) This act has bipartisan support. Call your Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn (Texas), or Mary Landrieu and David Vitter (Louisiana). For your Senator call (202) 224-3121. Identify yourself as an ELCA pastor/lay rostered leader. “I am a constituent and I feel _____________ about the DREAM Act. Let them know where you stand on support of comprehensive immigration reform and treating all migrants fairly and humanely.”