I will join more than 100,000 people who will gather in Washington, D.C., on March 19-22 to vocally and visibly advocate for immigration reform.
One of the highlights of the weekend will be the March for America on Sunday, March 21, when immigration reform advocates converge on the National Mall. Organizers anticipate that attendees will come from all regions of the country and represent diverse racial and ethnic communities, making clear that immigration reform is truly an issue for all Americans. An interfaith prayer vigil will be held on the National Mall, between 7th and 14th streets, from 1-2 p.m.
People from a variety of religious and faith communities will attend. For many Christians, the centerpiece of the weekend is Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) for Global Peace with Justice. This year’s conference, “A Place to Call Home: Immigrants, Refugees and Displaced Peoples,” will focus on government policies and community practices that impact refugees and immigrants, including how to prevent the displacement of millions throughout the world.
Keynote speakers include Bishop Minerva Carcano of the United Methodist Church, Desert Southwest Conference; Sister Helen Prejean, well-known anti-death penalty advocate; and Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America’s Voice, a newly formed communications campaign dedicated to common-sense immigration reform. Sponsors include more than 45 Christian denominations and faith-based organizations.
While health-care reform may be taking center stage for some, others will not let the call for comprehensive immigration reform die. In a recent pastoral letter, leaders from the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Church World Service (CWS) urgently spelled out the need for reform.
They wrote: “Unless there are major policy changes enacted by the U.S. Congress, many of these people will continue to languish in the shadows and be subjected to abuse, discrimination and hardships that are contrary to the Gospel values of love, unity and the affirmation of the dignity of all people.”
Today, an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants live and contribute to the well-being of this country. Many have little hope of becoming citizens and all too many are economically taken advantage of and are victims of racial bias and xenophobia.
Many immigrants are not afforded basic legal protections that we take for granted, pushing them further into the shadows of our society. There are also children who have lived in the United States for years, yet they fear deportation or cannot attend public colleges and universities, even if they are class valedictorians, because they are “undocumented.”
The growing ecumenical call for comprehensive immigration reform is based on the recognition that our current immigration policies diminish a person’s humanity and are contrary to the call of the Gospel to welcome and treat the stranger – the immigrant – with the full respect that he or she deserves as a child of God.
In this gulf stands a growing group of Christian leaders calling us to account for our actions and perceptions – both individual and collective. These leaders are making public their commitment to reforms that will humanize and make more functional the system by offering clear pathways to citizenship, family reunification, workplace protections and economic and other assistance in developing countries to reduce the need to emigrate.
The time for reform is now. While there will be a moment of history-making in Washington, D.C., this weekend, the real work must be done at home.
The Pastoral Letter on Immigration lifts up many actions that faith communities and individuals can engage in, including:
- Host a prayer vigil or community event to pray for immigrants and call for immigration reform, inviting your members of Congress and local media to attend.
- Dedicate a sermon, Bible study theme or series of Sunday school lessons to Christ’s teachings to welcome the stranger, love our neighbors and work for justice.
- Call, write and meet with your members of Congress – individually and as a community group – to urge them to support immigration reform.
- Get connected to and utilize resources related to your denomination’s efforts on immigration reform.
And we can pray for those in Washington, D.C., who will make public their commitments to just and humane immigration reform.
The invitation is clear: Do all you can to make immigration reform and the needs of immigrants part of your daily devotion and moral deliberation. Through the witness and work of the faithful, we can indeed reform a system that will better serve the needs of those throughout the world. We can be a beacon of hope, bring millions of our neighbors out of the shadows in our society, and draw closer together as a nation.
The time for prayerful action and immigration reform is now.
David Leslie is the executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and chair of the NCC/CWS Task Force on Immigration.