comprehensive immigration reform
For the past 19 years I’ve worked and lived in inner city East Dallas among very poor individuals and families. CitySquare, the faith-based non-profit that I lead, last year served more than 50,000 different individuals. We work hand-in-hand with low-income people to see life improved and turned toward real, lasting, legitimate opportunity. Our day-to-day work involves hunger relief and nutrition improvement, health care delivery, wellness programs, legal services, housing options, workforce training and job placement, public policy initiatives, and community organizing. It has been in this dynamic context that we’ve become very involved in advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.
Over half of our friends and neighbors who come through our doors seeking a better life are undocumented residents. Since our entire approach to the community is based on building strong, personal connections and relationships across and beyond the typical barriers of income, gender, race, and religion, we’ve become very aware of the plight, the needs, and the rights of our immigrant friends. Tens of thousands of residents of the Dallas metro area need the relief that comprehensive immigration reform promises.
During this time of Lent I’ve been meditating anew what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Interestingly, the only Gospel to contain the word ekklesia — church — is the Gospel of Matthew. Also in Matthew is an interesting take on the call of the disciples. Matthew 10 begins with the premise that as disciples we are all are potentially homeless in a world that has radically different values. Immediately after Jesus calls the 12 disciples, he warns them that they will be misunderstood, mistreated, and often on the road. Then Jesus gives a particular imperative for discipleship. I call it the “cup of cold water” discipleship test. Part of the discipleship marker is hospitality. A cup of cold water is a reprieve, a welcome, a new start.
A cup of cold water is the minimal requirement for what the Scripture calls hospitality or in the original language, xenophilia — love of the stranger. Jesus says that whoever gives a cup of cold water to these nomadic disciples will not fail to receive their reward. Hospitality is a Christian virtue. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels unaware.”
Introduction from Lisa Sharon Harper: Every once in a great while you meet someone who carries in their very body the scars of injustice that we talk about so much at Sojourners. These scars leave permanent reminders of the profound need for every follower of Jesus to follow him in word and deed. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Ivone Guillen. As Sojourners’ Immigration Campaigns and Communications Associate, Ivone has worked tirelessly for the passage of just immigration reform for two years. As a formerly undocumented immigrant, she bears the scars of our unjust immigration system and has experienced the healing that came from changes in immigration policy last year. Please read Ivone’s story. It reflects the stories of millions of people in church pews across the country; people made in the image of God, people waiting for that image to be fully recognized and set free inside our borders.
I remember clearly the day I heard the announcement on deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) as I felt an overwhelming surge of emotions in that one moment. A path to opportunity, however fragile and short-term, had finally been created for undocumented young people wanting to become full members of American society.
As I sat on the sofa on the morning of June 15 in front of the television and next to my computer, I felt anxious, excited, and dazed at the same time. There I was, listening to one of the biggest announcements ever made in my lifetime, and it directly impacted me. It was a surreal moment since I had been working with the advocacy community for almost two years and had seen difficult developments take place at the state level on the issue. Then and there, I felt that all of my work was paying off and that change could be achieved with enough persistence and pressure. It was a moment that most people wish to live and see, especially those who have worked in the movement for decades but seldom experience the ultimate triumphs of slow processes.
"'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you drink? And when was it that we saw yo a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"
--Matthew 25. 37-40
All this immigration talk reminds me of an encounter my wife and I had at a fast food restaurant in Atlanta. The night manager was Hispanic. He came by our table to make sure everything was all right. We started talking. I told him how troubled I was over our immigration debate.
That casual remark opened his door wide. He told me how scared many of his friends were. Some had already left the state. He told me they only wanted to work and send money back home where things were so tight. One very sick friend, he said would not go to the doctor or hospital because she was afraid of being deported. He told me he kept reading that these immigration laws had nothing to do with racial profiling.
He shook his head. “I have been stopped six times in the last few months mostly because I was Hispanic.”
"The old avocations by which colored men obtained a livelihood are rapidly, unceasingly and inevitably passing into other hands; every hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived emigrant, whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place."
“Learn Trades or Starve” (1853)
The Obama Administration and a bipartisan group in the Senate are making serious turns to tackle immigration reform. In addition to declaring that as citizens “our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others,” the president’s State of the Union address spoke of securing borders and decreasing the wait timeframe for the American residential legalizing process. Some 12 million women, men, and children across these United States await with bated breath to see what political deals will be made to construct either a pathway to citizenship or pave a road to deportation hell.
What is intriguing about the immigration conversation is that pundits tend to frame the argument in an "Us-versus-Them" fashion. Using rhetorical scare tactics, proponents for and against are not shy about disrobing a “more of them means less for us” stratagem. While much of this ploy has centered on how the massive number of “non-citizens” will subtract resources from persons of European descent, there is now a political stream that avers even sending “border breakers” to the back of the citizenship line will still reduce jobs among African-American low-wage earners. Words from Booker T. Washington, W.E.B DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and the quote from Frederick Douglass, among many others, are now resurfacing as a clarion call for African-Americans to think long and hard about getting on the “brown” bandwagon. Yet, none of the language from the aforementioned historical figures specially addresses Latino immigration.
In case you’ve missed the news surrounding immigration reform, here’s a brief update.
Last week, a bipartisan group of eight Senators unveiled a set of principles in support of immigration reform. The following day, President Barack Obama spoke at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas., where he released his proposal for a commonsense solution for immigration reform. Both parties see the moral and political need to address this issue.
President Obama is keeping up the pressure as he continues dialogue with numerous stakeholders to highlight the broad support for reform. On Tuesday he met with numerous external leaders hosting two separate meetings at the White House — one with progressive and labor leaders and the other with leaders from the business community — to discuss his continued support for an immigration reform package he hopes will pass this year.
In the fall of 2006 I saw Alfonso, one of my favorite young middle school students, walking around our neighborhood as I drove to the office. It was mid-day, and it was unusual for him to be out of school and on the streets as he was a good kid. I pulled over and hollered at him, "Why aren't you in school?" Well, he had been suspended. I told him to get in the car.
We hung out the rest of the day; we prepped for youth group the next night, buying food at Costco and making calls at the office. We walked over to my apartment talking about life and how to avoid suspension from school in the future. Talk turned to immigration and his status. I told him I was committed to giving whatever it took to fixing our broken immigration system, for however long it took, so his family and others we cared about could dream of a bright future. I asked him if he was open to working with me; still uncomfortable with sharing his status with others, he said he'd like to think more about it.
I had forgotten about this story until he reminded me of it yesterday as we boarded a plane together to see President Barack Obama speak about immigration in Las Vegas.
Charity doesn’t leave us unchanged, which is just one reason why it’s hard to make ourselves do it.
To be more specific: when we extend generosity and justice to others, it alters our relationship to them. Especially when those “others” are foreign to us. Hospitality has ways of making the people who receive it come inside and stick around, whether we really want them to or not.
We see this on display in Luke 4:22-30, which tells the second half of a story about Jesus’ statements to a group assembled in his hometown synagogue, in Nazareth.
The story began, in Luke 4:16-21, with Jesus unveiling his mission statement: he says he intends to be God’s instrument for releasing people from oppression of all kinds — spiritual, economic, political, physical, and social. This is the first narrated episode of Jesus’ public ministry in Luke’s Gospel, and so it lays a foundation for everything that follows. Summoning from ancient Israel’s scriptures grand themes about God-given justice and abundance, Jesus identifies himself as one determined to play a part in God’s intentions to free humanity from its sufferings.
On Monday a group of prominent faith leaders belonging to the Evangelical Immigration Table gathered on a press call to launch largest evangelical mobilization effort for immigration reform known to date.
Reaching out to more than 100,000 evangelical churches nationwide and more than 875,000 followers through social media, leaders promoted the “I Was a Stranger” immigration prayer challenge and a feature video that encourages congregations to participate. During this initiative, participants are asked to read one scripture on immigration a day for 40 days and reflect on it to help inform their views.
This campaign is part of a broader evangelical effort to help change the hearts and minds of policy makers and build the political willpower to pass immigration reform. Faith leaders encouraged our nation’s leaders — especially those who are compelled by their faith — to take the challenge and enact immigration policy that is driven by biblical principles.
There are many reasons to support comprehensive immigration reform. As Christians, we point to the biblical call to welcome the stranger and love our neighbors as top reasons for our support. We refer to the God-given dignity of each person, acknowledging that God created and loves each person, regardless of their immigration status.
But it helps to remember that there are significant economic and political gains to be had, as well. A Politico poll shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans support comprehensive reform. As we push on our political leaders to make a decision this year, here are some of the other arguments we can use, as described in a recent article on Think Progress:
1. Legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States would boost the nation’s economy.
2. Tax revenues would increase.
3. Harmful state immigration laws are damaging state economies.
4. A path to citizenship would help families access health care.
5. U.S. employers need a legalized workforce.
6. In 2011, immigrant entrepreneurs were responsible for more than one-in-four new U.S. businesses.
7. Letting undocumented immigrants gain legal status would keep families together.
8. Young undocumented immigrants would add billions to the economy if they gained legal status.
9. And DREAMers would boost employment and wages.
10. Significant reform of the high-skilled immigration system would benefit certain industries that require high-skilled workers.
Read the article for a full explanation of each item.
With discussions looming about the Obama Administration’s supposed efforts to aggressively push for comprehensive immigration reform early next year, its important now more than ever to know where the public stands.
A recent POLITICO/George Washington University poll shows that most Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country.
“The national poll, conducted last week, finds more Republicans — 49 percent — support a path to citizenship than oppose it — 45 percent. Democrats favor this approach 3-to-1, 74 percent to 24 percent. And independents back it by a 26-point margin, 61 percent to 35 percent.”
So what does this support mean for immigration reform? Read more here.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
As soon as the confrontation over fiscal policy winds down, the Obama administration will begin an all-out drive for comprehensive immigration reform, including seeking a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, according to officials briefed on the plans.
While key tactical decisions are still being made, President Obama wants a catch-all bill that would also bolster border security measures, ratchet up penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants, and make it easier to bring in foreign workers under special visas, among other elements.
Read more here.
Today, both progressive and conservative leaders from the business, law enforcement, and faith communities came together in Washington, D.C., during the two-day National Strategy Session to launch a new consensus around immigration reform.
Leaders launched the event with a press conference highlighting our broken immigration system — which affects all sectors of society — and urged immigration reform in 2013 that includes legalization and path towards citizenship.
As I write, I'm stuck in the Central Wisconsin Airport (near the bustling metropolis of Wausau, Wis., for those keeping score at home). And, you guessed it, I'm waiting. Fog in Minneapolis prevented our plane from landing there, and now I'm left sitting in a very small regional airport with no restaurant and no coffee and no concrete sense of what the rest of my day will look like as I make my way to California. All I can do is wait.
I do know, barring something entirely unexpected, that I'll eventually make it to San Francisco. Right now I'm living the axiom offered by Tom Petty decades ago: "The Waiting is the Hardest Part."
Advent, a season during which Christians honor and attempt to approximate the longing for a Messiah more than 2,000 years ago, is often described as a chance to exercise our patience muscles. Advent can serve as a season of anticipation and hope and longing, void of desperation. This is Advent for those who already have most of that for which they wait. But for countless people around the globe, every additional day of waiting comes with a heavy price.
Editor's Note: The following is a statement by Jim Wallis given at the kickoff of the National Strategy Session — a gathering faith, law enforcement, and business leaders who are reaching consensus on common-sense immigration reform. Throughout the week, the group is calling on Congress to create a road to citizenship for immigrants contributing to our society. You can follow a live stream of the press conference and strategy sessions HERE.
It’s quite an accomplishment to get Bibles, Badges and Business together all in one room and agreeing on something this big. This reminds us all that Christmas and the holiday season really is a time for miracles. It’s enough to make you believe there is a God! The country is hungry to see our political leaders work together and find a bipartisan solution to an issue of this magnitude. I have faith that comprehensive immigration reform is that common ground. And if we do this, who knows what else it might lead to.
The day after the election, many top Republicans made statements in support of comprehensive immigration reform. With rising Latino participation in elections, they see the need to work across the aisle for true reform to a broken system.
Those behind a new super PAC want to make sure they are successful. The group, Republicans for Immigration Reform, was formed to give political cover to Republicans willing to support bipartisan immigration reform proposals.
As President Barack Obama prepares for a second term, immigration reform is rumored to be at the top of his agenda. With conservative opinion on the issue shifting, a unique opportunity exists to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. Americans are eager to see the president and Congress make progress on this unnecessarily vexing issue.
The record Latino voter turnout in support of President Obama played a key role in his electoral victory, as he won 71 percent of the vote compared with 27 percent for Gov. Mitt Romney.
The election is finally over, and both parties understand the key role Latino voters played in the outcome. The balance of power in Washington remains the same, but the political winds have shifted dramatically on immigration. During the campaign, President Barack Obama promised to pass immigration reform if reelected. House Speaker John Boehner also recently stated that a “comprehensive approach is long overdue.”
Momentum is building. A new consensus is emerging. Progress is possible.
Exit polling from Tuesday’s presidential election is offering new hope to activists advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. The Latino community was instrumental in reelecting President Barack Obama, as record numbers turned out to vote and supported the president by over 70 percent. These numbers send a clear message to opponents of immigration reform that demonizing immigrants and blocking progress makes for a poor political strategy.
Pundits are opining that Congress may be more willing to discuss comprehensive reform, a promise President Obama made but has been slow in fulfilling due to congressional opposition. Indeed, republican leaders in Congress have already been altering their positions.
Last week, I attended the 9th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference at Georgetown University Law Center, where a number of senior government officials, policy experts, academics, and advocates discussed one of the most paralyzing issues of our time —immigration.
As each panelist attempted to provide their thoughtful legal and policy analysis on a number of issues like immigration enforcement, the federal government’s responsibility on immigration policy, and litigation developments, the differences in opinion between the speakers quickly emerged, even though there was consensus that immigration reform is significantly needed in our country.
Many agreed that the issue of immigration is of staggering complexity. The solution that is developed by the federal government must be a conglomeration of multifaceted mechanisms that address the brokenness of our current system at the policy, legal, and administrative level. This comprehensive solution must also be a clear reflection of the historical context we currently live in since it’s not in our best interest to use an outdated system from the past as an exemplary model for the future.