immigration reform

A Phoenix Easter Story

Crucifix, Julio Aldana /

Crucifix, Julio Aldana /

I first heard about Ruth Carmina Alvarez from my friend Kit Danley. Kit is the director of Neighborhood Ministries, a Christian community in downtown Phoenix that, over the past several years, has become increasingly focused on advocacy for undocumented immigrants in their neighborhood. It’s through Kit and her son Ian that I have become involved in discussions between evangelical pastors and many of our elected officials as we all seek a just, humane repair of our tragically broken immigration laws.

Carmina, a longtime Phoenix resident who is married to a citizen and has a citizen child, used a friend’s ID to get a job at a local KFC. She was picked up on immigration-related charges last August for working with “bad documents” but was released and had no subsequent contact with authorities. But on April 1 police came to her house and arrested her. She had just finished eight months of chemotherapy for Stage 3 breast cancer and was still very sick, waiting for surgery to remove the tumor. Carmina was charged with a class 4 felony, which could mean deportation. But more importantly, if she pleaded guilty, she would have been ineligible for any status adjustment should a comprehensive immigration reform bill pass.

Bearing Burdens: From Evangelism to Immigration Reform

Cinder brick laying, Lou Oates /

Cinder brick laying, Lou Oates /

I became interested in the politics of immigration in about the most innocent way possible for a student at a conservative Christian college — good ol’ fashioned evangelism. Working on an “impact team” with a local Columbian pastor, we had a few nights of evangelism in large apartment complex that was almost exclusively Honduran. On the first night, I struck up a conversation with a (very) drunk man sitting on a park bench named Carlos. Over the next few months our relationship grew, and we became close friends. Eventually, he had an experience with Christ that changed his life and we came brothers. As members of the same body, this now meant that his burdens were my burdens (Rom 12:15; Gal. 6:2). As Carlos was an undocumented immigrant living in the south, this means that it sure didn’t take long for my burden to become immigration reform

Months after our initial meeting, I looked down at my phone and saw that Carlos was calling—but as I picked it up, the voice on the other line didn’t sound anything like my friend. Instead of a loud and happy voice calling me gringo, the voice was strained, quiet, emotional. I tensed up at the sound of his quivering voice — recognizing immediately that something serious was wrong.

Defining Identity: Person of Color. Woman. Poor. Fatherless. Undocumented.

Handprint identity concept, Cbenjasuwan /

Handprint identity concept, Cbenjasuwan /

Some of you may know the experience of having a secret about yourself that when revealed makes you have to completely reframe your identity. This happened for me in my junior year of high school when I was offered the opportunity to travel through a college bound program. That is when I learned I was “undocumented.” The reality of the broad impact of this label set in with each evasive answer my mother gave when I asked if I’d be able to not only travel, but drive, or work to help pay the bills. Being undocumented threatened my dreams of going to college; it threatened the possibility of a better future.

I was born in Mexico, and as proud as I am about my ethnicity, there is only one place I know as home, the United States. My father abandoned us when I was 3 years old and this set everything in motion that would lead me and my family to the U.S. When we struggled without his support, my older brother left for the U.S. in search of a better life at the age of 14. My mother’s love for her oldest son drove her to leave her home as well. When my brother learned she was considering leaving me, his young sister, in the care of my uncle while she visited him, he insisted she brought me along. I have now been in the U.S. for 25 years.

Pastors Gather, Asking God to Resurrect Immigration Reform

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks for immigration reform. Photo: Joey Longley

A little over a week after Easter, more than 250 pastors descended upon Washington, D.C., to worship, pray, and meet with their members of Congress. After preaching about the resurrection of Christ, these pastors asked God to resurrect immigration reform.

A theologically and ethnically diverse group of pastors spoke at a press conference and a worship service before heading to the Capitol Building to meet with their representatives. The pastors told the heartbreaking stories of families in their congregations that had been separated because of the broken immigration system, God’s command to welcome the strangers in our midst, and prayed for God to change the hearts of the legislators who are stopping immigration reform from becoming law.

The event made one message abundantly clear: if immigration reform is going to happen, God is going to be the one who is going to get it done.

One More Time, Evangelicals Head to Hill on Immigration Reform

Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Galen Carey, vice president of National Association of Evangelicals, speaks on April 29. Adelle M. Banks / RNS

WASHINGTON — Trying yet again with new voices, more than 250 evangelical pastors came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to push for immigration reform.

“I didn’t want people to think this was only a Hispanic issue,” said Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, at a news conference before meeting with dozens of mostly Republican members of Congress. “This is impacting a lot of people, including Asian-Americans.”

Cho, who is of Korean descent, was among the new faces demonstrating support for immigration reform across racial and ethnic groups and denominations. He pointed out that one out of five Korean-Americans are undocumented.

Putting the Immigration Debate in Human Terms

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently stated that people who come into the country unauthorized to find work and support their families are doing so as “an act of love.” In a Miami Herald op-ed, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski is of Miami echoed the idea that this conversation is fundamentally about people:

To demonize irregular migrants as “lawbreakers” certainly generates heat but does not give any light to the urgent task of fixing our broken immigration system. This is not to condone the violation of the law — but as Gov. Bush suggests, these migrants are not criminals. Being in the United States without proper documents is not a criminal felony but a civil misdemeanor.

With his comment, Gov. Bush hit a nerve that runs through the immigration debate… With one three-word phrase, Gov. Bush has helped humanize these migrants — they are human beings who love their families, just as Americans do . This runs counter to the rhetoric of many shrill anti-immigrant voices and reframes the debate in human terms.

Read full article HERE .

Another Pro-Life Issue

Courtesy Fast4Families

Fast4Families fasters pray with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Courtesy Fast4Families

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the closest American prelate to Pope Francis, took nine other bishops to the Mexican-American border for three days of listening to the stories of people who are suffering from America’s horribly broken immigration system. The bishops celebrated a dramatic mass with hundreds of Mexicans, taking communion through slats in the security fence, and laid a wreath at the border commemorating the estimated 6000 people who have died trying to cross. 

“We can no longer tolerate the suffering caused by a broken system,” the Cardinal said. “The suffering and death must end.” 

When asked how important immigration reform now is to the Catholic Church, O’Malley replied, “It’s another pro-life issue.” 

Indeed it is.

An Easter Sermon: Immigration’s Winter and Spring

Photo licensed by SEIU / © 2010 Shell Photographics

SB1070 protest in 2010 in Phoenix. Photo licensed by SEIU / © 2010 Shell Photographics /

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11

Harsh winters make us more deeply appreciative of spring. Last week, after a particularly intense winter, it finally reached 60 degrees in New York. I, for one, celebrated heartily. Spring is a reminder that winter is not interminable and flowers will bloom again. Almost exactly one year ago, the Senate released a bipartisan bill on immigration reform. Many Christian leaders celebrated the possibility that finally the nearly 11 million men, women, and children would be afforded the opportunity to integrate into this great country. In addition, in January the GOP released a set of principles that set the tone for the genuine possibility for immigration reform. There was a growing consensus that this is the year for immigration reform. Then the news started to change and many prognosticators said, “Immigration reform is dead.”

It is into this public eulogy of immigration reform that the Christian message of Lent and Easter can breathe new life.

Immigration Reform: No More Excuses

Eliseo Medina at the Fast4Families tent on the National Mall in December. via Fast for Families/

As an immigrant who made the long journey from Zacatecas, Mexico, to the farmlands of California many times as a child, the Lenten story of Jesus’s wandering for 40 days in the desert has always resonated with me very deeply. And the Easter celebration that follows sustains my hope and resolve that the faith community’s long movement to reform our broken immigration system will succeed.

Late last year, I, along with several other immigration advocates and inspiring faith leaders, camped out in a tent on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to call attention to the moral crisis and human suffering caused by our broken immigration system. We asked ourselves: What are our faith, our words, and our history worth if not translated into action, sacrifice, and redemption?

So, for 30 days we fasted and prayed that leadership in the House of Representatives would follow the Senate’s lead and pass a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill. The power of prayer surrounded us as we were led in reflection on a daily basis by pastors who serve undocumented families, by immigrants who suffer under our unjust system, and by public officials who came to see our commitment as days without food turned into weeks.

Even though the House refused to act in 2013, we believe that our fast, and the support of thousands of solidarity fasters around the world, helped change the discussion about reform from one of dollars and cents to one about people and families. Our sacrifice and the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters will end in victory and redemption.

That They May Be One: Immigration and Christian Unity

Unity concept, C Jones /

Unity concept, C Jones /

As we approach Holy Week, I’ve been re-reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. In John 17, as Jesus prays for his disciples and their successors in the hours before he is arrested, he prays for our unity as his church:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21, 23)

Central to our mission as Christ’s followers is to share with the world this good news: that the Father sent the Son because he so loved the world — but the best observable evidence of that Gospel reality, a unified Church, seems a distant, utopian dream. Just within the United States — this small sliver of the global church — we are divided by denomination, by race, by political ideology, and by the competitive human instinct that leads even those congregations who resemble one another doctrinally, ethnically, and politically to jockey over the same individuals in order to fill their sanctuaries (or auditoriums) and offering plates. Perhaps the situation is not quite so stark: I know that many — probably most — believers share the desire for unity. It just seems at times that we have so far to go, and might be drifting in the wrong direction.