Thursday, May 2, 2013

Presbyterians Engage in the Immigration Debate

April 25, 2013- Vigil for Immigration Reform
Photo credit: United Church of Christ
A Lens for Immigration Reform

As people of faith, we believe that all people should be treated fairly. We follow the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger amongst us and we believe in treating all children of God with the respect and love that we all deserve. Current discussions about immigration reform are a call for us to exercise our faith and engage in the debate of what can affect so many of our brothers and sisters.

It is easy to fall prey to inaccurate media coverage that often advances fear of the stranger rather than compassion, love, and understanding. Yes, immigration is a complex topic but we don’t need to be experts to advocate for laws that advance our principles as Christians and that protect the dignity of all human beings.

Historically, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s public witness on immigration has recognized the need for immigration reform, responded to the changing patterns of migration, and has openly addressed the different issues affecting our immigrant communities, such as the separation of families and the exploitation of workers. We have often been called to educate ourselves on immigration issues and policies. As a community we have the duty to reach out to build cross-cultural bridges with our immigrant communities and to partner in providing services and advocate together for change.

When analyzing the current debate, it is helpful to view all proposals through the lens of the most current General Assembly policy priorities for just immigration reform. These are:
  • Preserving family unity by ensuring that we avoid the separation of families, revising visa preferences and caps, and eliminating visa backlogs. 
  • Providing a reasonable and inclusive path to citizenship without punitive costs, long waiting periods, or other irksome conditions for immigrants living in the U.S. 
  • Facilitating integration of immigrants into their communities by celebrating the culture and languages of their homelands, by providing civics education and legal assistance to regularize their status, and by providing access to all social services.
  • Requiring humane enforcement procedures that reduce human smuggling and migrant deaths, and that aim to eliminate human and civil rights abuses.  Such measures should include abolishing enforcement programs such as Operation Streamline and arrangements that involve local agencies in the enforcement of immigration laws, such as “287(g)” agreements and the Secure Communities program.  These programs lack oversight and transparency and have led to racial profiling, undermining the stability of communities and trust of law enforcement. 
  • Eliminating lengthy detentions, except for those accused of dangerous crimes, strengthening due process protections at every stage of the system, and establishing and stringently enforcing minimum standards of care in all detention facilities.
  • Enacting enforceable detention reforms, including rigorous medical treatment standards and increased access to pastoral care, legal counsel, and legal orientation programs.  Such reforms should also include the release of individuals who pose no risk to the community and expanded use of community-based alternatives to detention that are more humane and cost-effective.
  • Protecting all workers from exploitation, abuse, and affronts to their dignity by enforcing labor and employment laws that provide fair wages, and the right to organize and seek redress for grievances. 
  • Providing safe, legal, and realistic paths for future migration, consistent with the needs of the U.S. economy without undercutting the employment of anyone already working in the U.S., allowing new migrants to bring their families with them and allowing them the freedom to change places of employment.
  • Passing legislation comparable to the DREAM Act that provides a pathway to citizenship for eligible students. 
The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are both working on the issue of immigration reform this year. Any immigration reform legislation introduced has the potential to affect the lives of 11 million of our neighbors, our brothers, and our sisters. It is therefore our duty to follow the discussion and engage in the debate.

To review the actions of the 220th General Assembly (2012), visit, and search for Committee 12, the Immigration Issues Committee. If you’d like to join Presbyterians for Just Immigration or to let us know about the work you are doing for immigration reform, please email .

Irene Romulo is a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow serving her policy placement in the Office of Public Witness. During her field placement, she helped to document the impact of the program 'Secure Communities' in Oakland, CA through organizing work with Causa Justa :: Just Cause.