Open Letter to Obama: 'Lives are at Stake'

By Julie Peeples 7-02-2010

Dear Mr. President,

In your brief time in office you have clearly not been one to shy away from tough challenges. And as you pointed out, immigration reform is another of those challenges to be confronted.

Toward the end of your address on immigration reform yesterday you mentioned all the people you have been consulting with on this complex issue, pointing out that progress is being made. You stated you have also met with religious leaders, who have spoken to you about the moral imperative of this issue. I would have loved to hear you start right there: that comprehensive immigration reform is first and foremost a moral imperative. Human lives are at stake. Jobs and businesses are at stake. The soul of a nation is at stake.

You mentioned that the faith leaders shared a sense of urgency, and indeed Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church used the word in his introductory remarks, saying, "We urge Congress to consider all parties." For many of us, it starts right there, as a moral, spiritual imperative. And it is urgent.

While Washington studies and ponders and considers and weighs, more people are dying at the border and more people are convincing themselves they deserved it. While new ways are found to delay and stall and avoid the political fallout, more fathers and mothers are detained, sent into deportation proceedings, not knowing the fate of their children left behind at home. While Congress pushes meaningful immigration reform to the backburner yet again, more communities live in fear, day in and day out. Teenagers learn the harsh reality of being profiled while driving and being informed that high school is the end of the educational road for them. Mothers worry about a simple stop at the grocery store. Documented immigrants get detained because they had no papers on them. And the rhetoric on the talk shows and social websites and in city parking lots grows more mean-spirited each day.

That great chasm between Washington's inaction and the reality in which many are living -- that is fertile ground where myths and bigotry and xenophobia are encouraged to grow and spread. Without clear, consistent leadership from the federal government, the void must be filled, voices must rise, something must be done! And what is being done and said is increasingly anti-immigrant, hateful, hurtful to local economies, constitutionally questionable, biblically unjustifiable. We need you -- and all of our leaders -- to sound the call you also mentioned at the end, to appeal to people's highest ideals rather than their fears. And we need it now.

Your words show there is much that you "get" in this national debate. You see the brokenness of the immigration system as it now exists and the grave issues with Arizona's new law. You acknowledge the vital contributions of immigrants, and the pain and suffering of so many. You support the Dream Act. You understand how comprehensive reform has been held hostage to politics. You call for a common sense, multi-layered approach that will require bipartisan support. Your willingness to listen to all sides and to consider the depths of issues is inspiring. You remind us of our shared heritage in this country.

You have bravely confronted tough issues, Mr. President, and comprehensive immigration reform will be no less a challenge. It is a moral imperative. And it is urgent.

Julie Peeples

portrait-julie-peeplesJulie Peeples is a UCC pastor in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is actively involved in immigration issues through FaithAction International House and the NC Council of Churches.

To learn more about immigration reform, visit

+Ask the U.S. Senate to pass national immigration reform this year.

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