Today at Sojourners/Call to Renewal we are convening a significant gathering at an important time. Nearly 50 leaders and key policy staff from national and local churches, and faith-based and community organizations are here to discuss common ground on comprehensive and just immigration reform. Many of the leading organizations are here, and we have the opportunity to bring greater energy and a larger, broader constituency to bear on this cause. It is a room full of people who yearn for justice, and who, despite disagreements on some issues, come together on this one.
We were reminded this morning that immigration is a core issue for Christians. The biblical story continually shows God’s concern for the migrant and the outcast. “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). Similarly, throughout the New Testament, Christians are called to care for the outcast and the stranger. Jesus identified with these neighbors when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). As Christians, we support compassion and justice for immigrants and their families. Immigration is also a deeply relevant issue for all Americans. The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, one that has been continually reshaped by new groups of people bringing diverse cultures, perspectives, and resources.
Immigration issues are also poverty issues. Immigrants – both legal and undocumented – are more likely to live in families with incomes below the poverty level, with children of undocumented immigrants especially at risk. If a path to citizenship is not provided for undocumented immigrants, our country could have a permanent underclass of guest workers – people who work, live, pay taxes, and go to school in the U.S., but cannot attain better and more secure lives for themselves and their families. That’s why immigration reform is an important plank in our Covenant for a New America. Humane and holistic reform can be pro-work and pro-family, creating opportunities to strengthen the common good of families and employers alike, and enriching the vitality of America.
This morning, a panel of senior Congressional Democratic and Republican staff, from both the House and the Senate, spoke of the challenges and opportunities for immigration reform in the new Congress. With Congress closely divided, any successful legislation will require strong, bipartisan agreement. And they noted that the faith community is respected by both sides, and therefore has an important role to play. Our voices and those of our members are needed in Congress.
Then the top policy staff from the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, World Relief, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke of the significance of the church. We have a unique role, they said, to lift up the moral and human aspects of immigration reform. We believe immigrants are children of God, entitled to dignity and respect. An increasing percentage of our congregations are immigrants, and our church social service agencies, schools, and health clinics work with them and their families on a daily basis. That moral grounding and day-to-day experience gives us the authority to speak to political leaders.
It is our hope that this day together will help us explore shared visions and common messages, increase and coordinate our engagement, and identify common policies and legislative strategies. The time for significant and comprehensive immigration reform is here.