Thursday, October 8, 2009

Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Faith-Based Perspectives on Immigration Reform

The Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security just held a hearing this afternoon on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives." Senator Schumer invited witnesses from the evangelical faith community to speak on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Prior to the hearing, we at FCNL and our colleagues at other faith-based advocacy organizations were concerned that this panel did not represent a diversity of faith leaders, and thus was not a truly interfaith panel. However, I am pretty satisfied with what I heard expressed at the hearing today. Let me share some of the remarks of the witnesses with you:

Michael Gerson, a senior research fellow at the Center on Faith and International Affairs in Washington, DC, said that a relatively open immigration system is good for the economy. He sees bigotry in current arguments against immigration reform and sees a need for unity, saying, "No one is illegal. They are human beings with stories and struggles. Every alien is a neighbor."

Leith Anderson, the senior pastor of the Wooddale Church in Minnesota, said of immigrants that "they are us," meaning that many Christian evangelical denominations are growing largely due to immigrants. He also said that it is important to prioritize family reunification in immigration reform. His priorities for reform include: ensuring fair and humane treatment of immigrants, creating strong borders, promoting family unity, and creating a reasonable path to legal status and eventual citizenship.

Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus Theodore E. McCarrick recognized the need to welcome the stranger, a teaching that is common to many faith traditions. He said - and this is a great quote - that immigration reform is ultimately a humanitarian issue, and this issue is "the axis around which other aspects [of reform] should revolve." He is also committed to creating pathways to citizenship and family unity. In his remarks, he mentioned the need to reduce the number of deaths on the border; to protect asylum-seekers and refugees; to ensure due process so that each individual immigrant has his or her fair day in court; and to restore the rule of law. Most importantly (in my view), he said that the United States must be willing to work with its international partners to address the root causes of immigration, including trade issues.

Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said that this is an issue of "moral and spiritual imperative, an issue of justice." Similarly to the other witnesses, he supports an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

James Tolle, the senior pastor of the Church on the Way, called on Americans to love thy neighbor as thy self. He recognizes that undocumented students are caught in a paradox, in that once they have degrees in higher education they are unable to get jobs to implement their skills. He also spoke about how his community was personally affected by raids, in which Hispanic citizens were detained as they waited to prove their legal status. He sees undocumented immigrants as exploited, when they should be able to enjoy equality and human rights. He reminded the subcommittee that the overwhelming majority of the undocumented population are not criminals -- undocumented immigrants are seeking safety and want to obey the law.

I am very heartened to hear these faith leaders speak strongly about the need to see immigrants as people who deserve to be treated with dignity, regardless of their legal status. I am still concerned that immigration reform must include reasonable pathways to legal status and eventual citizenship -- there was some concerning talk at the hearing about the extent to which undocumented immigrants should be required to "pay their debt to society." However, I am glad that Senator Schumer and the subcommittee have recognized the voice of the faith community in advocacy on immigration reform, and I hope that this hearing indicates that Senator Schumer will be introducing a humane bill on comprehensive immigration reform in the near future.

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