This year is the best chance we have had in nearly a decade to change our broken immigration system.
We know there is widespread support for a more just way of doing things: A June 2020 Pew Center survey found that a majority of both parties — 57 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats — support a path to citizenship for undocumented people. This, along with the work of immigrant communities and advocates, gives me hope that we can create a more just society — a world where children know their parents will still be there when they get home from school and where immigrant people can participate fully in our democracy. We can create a world where immigrant people can have the opportunity to pursue their vocations and be treated fairly at work, rather than being exploited because of their immigration status. We can also create a world where people seeking safety at our border can stay with family or community sponsors while their immigration cases are processed. We can create a world where people feel they have the choice to stay in their home countries and communities because they feel safe and see opportunities.
We should celebrate the ways the Biden administration has begun to make some positive change. For example, on Feb. 19, the administration began to allow people who had been forced to wait in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) — the “remain in Mexico” program — to enter the United States. Biden also promised to invest $4 billion to help address problems that force people to leave their homes in the first place. The Biden administration also sent the U.S. Citizenship Act to Congress, a bill that, while imperfect, does make important changes, including:
- Creating an eight-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented people who were in the U.S. on or before Jan.1.
- Allowing DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and qualifying agricultural workers to immediately apply for a green card and, after three years, apply for citizenship.
- Funding more immigration judges and legal help for people trying to immigrate, allowing the U.S. to prioritize reuniting families by clearing the backlog of applications.
The U.S. Citizenship Act takes our country one step closer to a more faithful immigration system, and, while it doesn’t fix everything, we should urge Congress to turn that bill into law.
Immigrant people are used to encouraging leaders while holding them accountable. In these liminal spaces, we hold both hope and disappointment, celebration and lament, the already and not yet. The chance to create a more just society gives us hope and energy — but we also know that we must keep pushing our leaders to do the right thing.
Some harmful, immoral policies have been allowed to continue under the Biden administration. The Biden administration has not repealed former President Donald Trump’s “Title 42” public health order, citing coronavirus concerns to turn away nearly all people seeking asylum at the border. Hundreds of Black immigrant people have been deported to Haiti, Angola, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo since Biden took office, many taking place as the U.S. celebrated Black History Month. The Biden administration has also reopened a so-called “tent city,” a temporary holding center for children, in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Officials are planning to open a second in Homestead, Fla., soon. These facilities were closed due to outrage over abuse and hiring problems in 2019; reopening them is a step backward.
The United States has a history of using its policies to scare people away from immigrating rather than resolving the problems of our immigration system or addressing the reasons people are forced to leave their homes. The Trump administration’s depravity shone a light on problems that have existed for decades; the country’s approach to people fleeing violence and poverty has often been cruel.
If we are going to do that, Christians and faith leaders need to provide the moral guidance our government needs. We know that the experience of migration is central to our faith. We also know that immigrant people contribute to our communities as family, friends, and neighbors. Immigrant people work essential jobs in agriculture, service industries, and health care. People are being forced to leave their homes beacause of climate change and COVID-19, and more arrive at our border each day looking for safety and opportunity. There are people who call the United States home living in fear of deportation and children worrying whether their parents will come home that night. For undocumented people, home is here. We know we need to do the right thing and change our laws to reflect that reality, but the immigration bill may not have enough votes in Congress to become law.
We must commit to providing that moral guidance to our country’s leaders today just as we have in the past. When President Barack Obama was in office, we fought against immigrant detention centers, deportations, and unfair immigration practices. When President Donald Trump was in office, we fought against family separation, immigrant detention centers, and deportations. Under President Joe Biden, we will support and celebrate positive change even as we continue to oppose harmful policy, and we invite you and your church to join. We must advocate — in churches, throughout communities, and among elected officials — for immigration policies that honor the God-given dignity of every person, protect family unity, provide pathways to permanency, and promote thriving communities. In order for the promises made to our immigrant communities to become reality, we know our church communities have a crucial role to play. Faith leaders and faith communities can come alongside immigrant advocates to ensure these systems finally change. Sojourners is building a resource hub to help pastors and lay leaders guide their congregations on the topic of immigration. Your sermon could be one resource to support others in this work.
As we continue in this season of Lent, may the power of co-laboring and waiting for the fullness of the kingdom of God sustain our work toward a more just and faithful immigration system.