Immigration reform: The view from the faith side

By Katherine MarshallFAITH IN ACTION The irony is familiar but still troubling: America, a nation proudly built by and for … Continued

By Katherine Marshall
FAITH IN ACTION

The irony is familiar but still troubling: America, a nation proudly built by and for immigrants, today has a badly broken immigration system. But the debate about how to fix it has been fractious and unproductive. We seem to be stalled. At Georgetown’s Berkley Center, a group of scholars and activists last week explored how religious leaders and communities see the issue and what they are doing about it.

It was a generally upbeat afternoon. Heartening data from surveys suggest that most people, deep down, are ready for immigration reform. There’s a mobilization for action despite the sad defeat of the DREAM Act in December. And religious communities across the country are engaged in the day-to-day work of helping new arrivals find their way and integrate into American society.

The surveys, especially one by the Public Religion Research Institute, paint a picture of a reasonable American people who want to live their religious values in the way they approach immigration reform. Large majorities in all faith traditions acknowledge that the system badly needs fixing. They agree that core values should be a guide to reform: the Golden Rule (“providing immigrants the same opportunity that I would want if my family were immigrating to the U.S.”) and valuing the dignity of each person. More significant, the survey put to respondents a comprehensive package that has long been advocated for immigration reform: that illegal immigrants be required to register with the government, work, pay taxes, and learn English before they can apply for citizenship; 86 percent of those polled supported it, six in ten “strongly.”

The view gets more cloudy when politics comes into the picture. By double-digit margins, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to rate cultural-religious values as important for immigration reform. It was heartening to hear Richard Land, proud conservative with the Southern Baptist Convention, issue a strong call for statesmen to do what needs to be done and what is right and just. He said that despite expectations that his conservative constituency would boo him when he called for reform, instead he received a standing ovation.

There are positive stories to tell about what religious leaders and communities are doing where it matters at a human level, in communities. Raleigh Bailey presented an inspiring narrative of North Carolina. Religious communities of many kinds, working individually and together, with the government and independently, have reached out and helped to build a genuine ethos of welcome and thus success in integration. In one school district there are now 150 first languages spoken by the students, a remarkable transformation in a state that had little diversity beyond white and black. It’s a rich new resource.

Women play the critical roles in making this welcome happen. There was little disagreement on that point: women are the ones who usually address the practical dimensions of bringing people from different communities together, breaking down barriers, finding common ground and solving the inevitable day-to-day problems. Elzbieta Gozdziak, Georgetown professor and Polish immigrant, delivered a humorous description of an immigrant’s lot, dealing with both the material (food) and the transcendent (“two things I will never be able to do in English even after 30 years: pray, because of course the Virgin Mary does not understand English, and read poetry”). An immigrant woman in Utah described the pain she felt living in a community that believed she could never be welcomed in Heaven, yet found a way to be part of the community. Elzbieta stressed the critical importance of religion and religious communities right in an immigrant’s early days. After some time the splendid American market, with its wide array of choices, opens different vistas.

Solutions seem to call for a combination of head and heart. Susan Martin, who heads Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, noted that when asked what proportion of American’s population is made up of immigrants the response in one survey was 39 percent. The reality is 13 percent. Public education can help blunt the fears that underlie much rage and reaction that blocks immigration reform.

And so can the appeal to conscience, to the good angels of the American people. “Welcoming the stranger” is a teaching that many faith traditions, and especially Christianity, Judaism, and Islam hold in common: for example, the Old Testament (Hebrews 13.2) admonishes us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The calls of the pulpit can help in bridging the divides and moving to action.

Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, a Visiting Professor, and Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue.

By Katherine Marshall | 
February 28, 2011; 12:39 AM ET

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Faith in Action


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  • WmarkW

    KM: “…when asked what proportion of American’s population is made up of immigrants the response in one survey was 39 percent. The reality is 13 percent.”This happens because people who live near many immigrants answer with their local area’s rate, but people who live near few answer with a guess what the rate in a high-density area is. I remember reading that Americans thought 25% of the USA was black, which is about double the true figure.The 13% also doesn’t include anchor babies of illegals, of whom about a half million are BORN EVERY YEAR.I’ll believe the illegals are assimilating when I stop being asked to press “one” for English.

  • Ali4

    Please elucidate on just how our immigration system is “broken”. Is it “broken” because it does not admit all of the billions of people who would like to come here? Is it broken because it requires that immigrants either be supported by family members or have skills and education employers want, rather than allowing any unskilled uneducated person to come here and become a drain on the U.S. taxpayer? Is it “broken” because just one country, MEXICO, out of almost 200 countries in the world, has a lock on our legal immigration, sending 15-20% of it for the past two decades? OR is it “broken” for the simple reason that special interests have had an interest in lots of cheap, illegal labor/votes/clients/customers/congregationsFact is, our immigration system is NOT broken. U.S. immigration policy should exist for the good of AMERICANS and illegal immigration is NOT in our interests. Nor is yet another amnesty for people who make their first act here to break our laws. If “religious” people are worried about the unskilled and uneducated of the world, they can join the Peace Corps, sponsor missionaries, or otherwise carry out their private charities without expecting the rest of us to do it.

  • Ali4

    By the way, the “welcoming the stranger” as an excuse for illegal immigration is a crock. I’m Arab-American. There’s an Arab saying you may have heard, fish and guests stink after three days. In the tribal days when accommodations (and water) could be days apart, it made sense to behave well to guests who needed help because you could easily be in the same situation when you traveled. That does not mean, however, that strangers were easily taken into the tribe. Quite the contrary.

  • Patriot12

    To rephrase: “Churches across the nation are new arrivals (aka illegal aliens) find their way into American society.”Tell your Congressperson to take away their tax exempt status for criminal violations of Federal and State laws (i.e. aiding and abetting a foreign invasion).

  • passonfirstdown

    The above following statement is sad, very sad, indeed: “that illegal immigrants be required to register with the government, work, pay taxes, and learn English before they can apply for citizenship; 86 percent of those polled supported it, six in ten “strongly.” Illegal Aliens do not respect our laws and break in line. They are not “Immigrants”. The above quoted comment condones law-breaking!Also, who is going to do a very necessary “background check “for Illegal’s while they are here? Who is going to test their “English”. Who is going to pay for this…and their welfare and children’s education? The U.S.A. is broke, i.e.., we have no money. Illegal Aliens are taking badly needed American jobs.If Americans are unemployed and have no money they will work.( Forget the illegal alien talking points that they are all jobs Americans don’t want)The Church should stop referring to Illegal Aliens as Immigrants. True Immigrants who followed our laws are slandered when the church compares them with illegal aliens.Based on the above comments the Church is obviously for “open Borders” and breaking our laws–for shame! We don’t tell churches how to praise God–and the Church has no business advocating breaking American Laws! We are/were, “A Nation of Laws”.That is why there should be a separation of Church and State.

  • usapdx

    The laws of the U.S.A. are correct and do not need change. What right does any human have to sneak into any counrty? In the U.S.A., we the people welcome all immagrants to THEIR new country and hope they have a happy full life. Now just what is a IMMAGRANT? A immagrant is a person who becomes a citizen of that person’s new country THEN is a IMMAGRANT of that persons old country. A person that sneaks into a country is UNLAWFUL as well as a ILLEGAL, ( NOT A IMMIGRANT ). In the U.S.A., we have a INVSION of over 12,000,000,000 ILLEGALS who take jobs from Americans for SCAB wages paid by their FEDERAL LAW VIOLATING EMPLOYERS as the American tax payer picks up the ILLEGAL’s TAB. Most ILLEGALS ARE NOT AT WORK IN THE FIELDS but holding good jobs. Why should any American lower them self for SCAB wages to get a job from a ILLEGAL? If the federal goverment would FULLY enforce the federal laws on the book on the EMPLOYERS & RENTERS of ILLEGALS as well on our U.S.A. boaders, the UNEMPLOYED ILLEGALS would leave our country on their own. The groups that speak out on this political matter and turn around and claim tax exempt meaning that the group pays NO TAX, maybe it is time that the TAX EXAMPT LAW is REPELED by congress so these groups the would have total free speech and could pay their TAX in this country. The tax exempt law has rules on politics. Are some of them pushing for the ILLEGALS so that their pews are full when the basket is passed?

  • usapdx

    If the socalled DREAM ACT was full explained in detail, Americans would fine it a slap in the face of all Americans. The 14th amendment was NOT written for the person in our country on a trip that produces a child in our country or for any person that enters our country UNLAWFULLY and produces any children but it was written for all that were FORCED INTO our country AGAINST THEIR FREE WILL AND THEIR CHILDREN and the American CITIZEN’S CHILDREN period. Reads the Dred Scott case of 1857 and what Chief Justice Taney said. Yes we are a country of immigrants but a person is a IMMIGRANT only when that person becomes a citizen of the U.S.A.. If you went to another country, does that make you a immigrant? No account you are not a citizen of that country. What country in Europe that has no homeless or illegals? It is the Vatican. Why is the Vatican a nation? Who Christ want his church to be a nation, ( STATE )?

  • ITs-TIME

    2 of 2:RECOMMENDATION 2: Since Many CHURCH(s) receive ‘It is High Time That The suggested “U.S.-RELIGION POLICE” Division; make it a PUBLIC duty (not only a Private) for ALL ‘CHURCH”s to Register (ALL) their Church(s) & Their SOURCE of (Foreign & Local) Moneys. & Before any CHURCH System can BUILD More of them, Then They must inform, the U.S.-RP about their ‘INTENT’ (to BUILD/ACQUIRE) or EXPANSION other than their current Location.Note: U.S.A’s RELIGION, if any is SECULARANiTY! NOt CHRISTIANiTY, NAY ISHLAMiNITY… etc! And Since Most of These 501, c-3 ORG’s receive PUBLIC MONEY (includes From The White Houses Faith-Based/Community Initiative self serving bank rolls) so they MUST make All Their ASSETS & NET WORTH Available to the People. meaning, Buy taking Public Money, this in and by itself demands of them to OPEN (like a Public Corporation for all the world to study) their Books for all to See, Includes their Own Congregants.Like, “Same kind of Birds (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist…) with Same Feathers Flock Together” Then All CHURCHES who Stick Together, Must Comply with the “U.S. RELIGION POLICE” (US-RP) together. With ‘US-RP’, Those the new “US-RP” shall confiscate Any or All ASSET’S, PROPERTY’S etc.. Of said BAD-CHURCH and or BAD-LEADERS/PREACHERS/IMMAMS/PRIESTS/RABBI’s etc. NO-EXCEPTION. WHEREFORE: ALL Church’s based ACTIVITIES in America (not Only ISLAMics) should be Checked Upon and Balanced via Enforcement (MORALITY & ETHICALITY) in All AMERICA, on a Federal Level! Pleazza, Do not holler “COMMUNISM”! Beware Christians. Beware Paganians. Beware Wiccanians. Beware JEWISHians. Beware ISLAMICians. Beware HINDUians. Beware JAINians. Beware Mormonians. Beware Buddhistians. Beware ,,,. Soo,[Secularist] UNCLE-SAME & AUNT-LIBERTY knows All Things. Nay, Not only will Ye & Yo’s “G-d”, gd, GOD(s), Allah, Ishvara, lalala knows ALL. The Forgiving & Punishment SECTtions of Bad CULTtures will be strictly Enforced by the New “U.S. RELIGION POLICE”! This way, YE & YO’sWill Keep The BIBLEs/CHUMASH’s, GEETA’s/UPANISHADS, KAGYURS/TAGYURS, QURAN/KORANs etal; To Ye & Yo Selves.Note: unlike the JUDICIAL BRANCH; Time For CHURCH’s to STOP LEGISLATING or dabbling in POLITICS!.Note again: IT IS TIME!

  • ITs-TIME

    1 of 2:i [WE[ just finished reading sisSTAR Michelle Boorstein’s title: “Anxiety on all sides of upcoming House hearing on radicalization of U.S. Muslims.” WHAT,does this have to do with “IMMIGRATION,”? Plenty! Note: These up coming Hearings are Not only about or Targeting the ISHLAMi//ESAUi Ummah, But Also Radicalization in other None Islamic Nabes/Communities and or Sangha’s! So, Besides GUILTY MIND(s), American Islami’s, should Chill out. And DARE-NOT make Amwericans, in Eyes of ISLAM (the Abroad) look Hypocritic or, Allah forbid, Anti ISLAM/MUSLIM/MOSLEM!2nd Note: Keep in HEAD, nay Heart nor Gutts that, RECOMMENDATION: In light of Honorable Peter Kings imminent inquiry into questioning and or corroborating the Dangers of or Asuaging the fears via such for its citizenary/Denizenary (Constituentary), THATU.S. Congress Should/Shall Create the badly needed “Well, Besides Mormon and Native (American made Religions); that the Rest of [SECULAR//RULE-OF-LAW] AMERICA’s “CHURCH(s) are in Fact UN-AMERICAN, or “There are basically 3, Three-Major-Religion SYSTEN(s) here [IMPORTED from the Abroad, like Diseases from the Past] & all (includes the American Made Religions mentioned) always seem to compete for a name for god(s)) and compete for more Aspirants (Customers, less Aspirin) to worship their Version, or God-Flavor as ORGanized ‘TAX EXEMPT” entities; which is how they Grow & Promote such IMPORTED Religions.This is [Compete, That they need to be REGULATED, via Close Supervision via the proposed “Example: Fact; Many Grass-Roots & “CHURCH”s are Fronts here for ILLEGAL Activities, includes (Knowingly) Helping or Harboring ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS . And Even the so called None Fronts Also (Knowingly) Help Both those immigrants They SPONSOR (legals) but mishmash helping the ILLEGAL(s) too. And all this ILLEGAL HELPING is made possible via TAX-FREE/Exempt (scare) Moneys. continue 2 of 2

  • areyousaying

    Interesting how Christocons demonize the immigrants but say very little of their corporate patrons who ILLEGALLY entice, employ and exploit illegal aliens. They want cheap laborers who they don’t have to pay enough for FICA, tax and insurance withdrawals but they don’t want people of darker skin and a different language. Mexicans I know here hear fantastic stories of jobs available in the US from recruiters for these corporations only to put themselves at great risk and collect huge amounts of money from their families to go there to find themselves treated as sub-humans by white American “Christians”All I can do is teach them English and advise them not to go illegally even though the offers there are more attractive than my advice.You Huckabees make me sick to my stomach.

  • Ali4

    Areyousaying wrote:”Interesting how Christocons demonize the immigrants but say very little of their corporate patrons who ILLEGALLY entice, employ and exploit illegal aliens.”Fact is, those who claim to be concerned about illegal aliens and the American worker are selling out all them.

  • andrew23boyle

    I cannot understand how an honest liberal can be an apologist for illegal immigration.Illegal immigration exists for one reason and one reason only: so that certain greedy traitors in THIS country can make a few extra dollars by subverting US labor protections and by creating an EXPLOITED LABOR CLASS. It is not about ‘diversity’ or ‘compassion’ or ‘human rights’; it is about CRASS PROFIT at others’ expense and by others’ misery.I don’t understand how anyone ever convinced themselves that they are being some sort of humanitarian when they tell another human being “You’re welcome to stay illegally in our country, free to be abused by your employer and to hide from the authorities, free to undermine labor laws and take work from the struggling US labor class.” I would go so far as to say that abetting and excusing a system that subverts labor protections and exploits HUGE numbers of people for the benefit of the plutocrats that hire them is the very OPPOSITE of progressive ideals.I wish the apologists would reconsider their position and what, exactly, they are supporting. I believe that most of these people really do want to do what is right but haven’t really thought about the nature of the beast. If one really thinks we need more workers or that we should allow for more immigration, that’s fine but then PLEASE advocate for mechanisms to allow for more LEGAL immigration rather than abetting the illegal and exploitive ‘system’ that currently exists and that makes a mockery of the very labor protections of which so many on the left are so proud. What good, for instance, is a minimum wage when those who wish to avoid paying it can simply hire illegal aliens and shut out legal workers? My wife is an immigrant. My adopted sisters are immigrants. I am myself the descendant of immigrants. I have NO problem with immigration as long as it is LEGAL.Illegal immigration is bad for our economy, worse for our Republic and worst of all for the immigrants themselves.

  • merbc

    Well I just couldn’t get past the 2 gross falsehoods in the first sentence – that the US was built by and for immigrants. Sorry, it wasn’t. Check your history. Check the birthplaces of the founding fathers. Most were born and raised on the continent. And our immigration system isn’t “broken.” It is instead oversubscribed and its laws are largely unenforced. Our immigration system actually functions quite well, admitting millions of temporary visitors and over 1 million new greencard holders every single year.Please, get your facts straight before you write.

  • wmpowellfan

    Frankly, it is unChristian to use God’s word to encourage wrong-doing. “Welcome the aliens among us”…? Well, how about don’t break the laws of the land? How about don’t invade a country and then lie and steal to gut our welfare systems? How about don’t have children you cannot afford to support, in order to hijack citizenship? Illegal immigration is illegal, and cloaking criminal behavior in a church robe is shameful. Listen, if our immigration system is broken, it was broken by illegals who have zero respect for this country, refuse to assimilate and expect us to serve as their ATMs. Charity begins at home. Take care of Americans, and help foreigners in their own countries. When they come here illegally, they are criminals — and all the P.C. hypocrisy won’t make that right.

  • wmpowellfan

    From WAPO:”A Silver Spring man convicted of falsifying immigration documents threatened to blow up the White House, the U.S. Treasury building, a federal courthouse and a Metro stop…”Lajqi, an ethnic Albanian who CAME TO THE UNITED STATES THROUGH MEXICO, is a self-described ‘extremist militant’…”Everyone who supports illegal immigration is complicit in such actions. Whether it’s an illegal alien who drives drunk and kills, an illegal who rapes, an illegal who takes a job from an American citizen, or an illegal who commits identity fraud in order to access funds, those who enable illegal immigration are helping it happen.That includes churches.