From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Continue Call For Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Date Thu, 14 Sep 2006 10:24:06 -0500

Title: Lutherans Continue Call For Comprehensive Immigration Reform ELCA NEWS SERVICE

September 14, 2006

Lutherans Continue Call For Comprehensive Immigration Reform 06-139-JB

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Several religious leaders called on the U.S. Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform -- not just "enforcement only" legislation -- in a national conference call Sept. 12 with news reporters. One of the speakers was the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr., president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), Baltimore, hosted the conference call of interfaith leaders. LIRS is a cooperative agency of the ELCA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In December 2005 the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that emphasizes enforcement of immigration laws and border security, and would make it a criminal offense to aid a person who is in the United States illegally. In June the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would provide for a more "comprehensive" approach to immigration reform. That legislation, favored by U.S. President George W. Bush, would provide for border security and enforcement while protecting workers' rights and making it possible for undocumented workers to seek legal status or to eventually become U.S. citizens.

Members of both houses must agree on a compromise proposal. It seems unlikely that Congress will conclude its work on immigration before the new Congress convenes in 2007, Deffenbaugh said.

Calling immigration "a contentious issue" in the United States and the world, Deffenbaugh said immigrants "are people, not statistics," created in the image of God.

In commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Bouman noted that New Yorkers and others depended on the goodwill of people around the world for healing. "Immigrants are in our congregations. The Bible is clear about welcoming the stranger," he said. Bouman called enforcement-only legislation "fool's gold" that only distracts from the broken policy beneath it, he said.

"From my heart, we are calling -- I am calling -- for a comprehensive approach toward loving our neighbor," Bouman said.

People who may be opposed to the idea of comprehensive reform learn about the "giftedness" of their neighbors when they interact with other communities, he said. Bouman added that the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted a proposal to initiate an immigration task force in every synod, and that the ELCA Conference of Bishops had formed a task force on the topic.

Other church leaders emphasized similar themes. "We strongly oppose a bill that would separate families," said the Rev. Mari Castellanos, United Church of Christ, Washington, D.C.

Sister Ann Curtis, RSM, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, said her constituents "reject border enforcement only. Why is our southern border the most militarized border in the world where there are two countries not at war?" she asked.

She said it is vitally important that religious leaders find opportunities to share their views on immigration with members of Congress. "It is critical to raise up the faith perspective whenever possible," Curtis said.

Castellanos added that people of faith have done a lot to mobilize members on the immigration issue, but religious leaders have become frustrated because news organizations haven't paid much attention.

Many of the church leaders criticized how the immigration discussion has become politicized. "Politics is taking precedence over policy, and that is very said," said Fr. Michael Leonard, Chicago Irish Immigrant Support Center.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, based in Sacramento, Calif., said, "It is morally reprehensible to keep 12 million people in limbo for the sake of political expediency. Our desire is for every ... immigrant to become a productive citizen." Protecting U.S. borders and protecting immigrants protects "the American dream," he said, adding that the Latino community will not stand by and allow border-protection-only legislation to pass in Congress.

Bhai Gurdarshan Singh, Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (Sikh), Rockville, Md., said, "we are all immigrants." He said he prays that U.S. lawmakers will pass a comprehensive bill. Some 12 million undocumented workers in the United States are "hard- working, God-loving people who want to make this great nation their home," he said.

Rabbi Scott Sperling, Union for Reform Judaism, New York, said an enforcement-only policy ignores human needs. Immigration policy must be generous and fair, he said. National solutions are required, not "piecemeal" actions by individual states, Sperling added.

Others who spoke on the conference call were Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, imam and professor of religion, San Diego (Calif.) State University, and the Rev. Derrick Harkins, pastor, Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.


Information about Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is at on the Web.

For information contact:

John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or ELCA News Blog:

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