Churches and society are confronted by many issues such as poverty, the environment, immigration, education, health, and criminal justice. By working together, individuals, churches, and communities can share information, organize efforts, and share resources. The OCC Social Justice Ministry Network gives us a vitally important tool enabling us to do this.

How does it work? Each representative is kept informed by OCC of important issues, including the work of the OCC  
Committee as it tracks Oklahoma legislation. Where appropriate, we will produce relevant statements and recommend responsible action. Network representatives will then determine how best to disseminate this information to members of their own congregation and other interested persons. To join the Social Justice Ministry Network, send an e-mail to SJMN@okchurches.org.
Click on the embedded links in the paragraphs below for more in-depth information on each topic.


OCC's Theological Statement regarding immigration advocacy objectives are:

· Respect for and recognition of the human dignity of every immigrant;
· An opportunity for hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows, regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria, and pursue an option to become lawful permanent residents and, eventually, United States citizens;
· Reforms in our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce family separations and waiting times for separated families to be reunited;
· The creation of legal avenues for immigrant workers and their families to migrate here and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner, with rights fully protected;
· Border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing the entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals, as well as pursuing the legitimate task of implementing state and federal immigration policy; and
· Policies which do not penalize church and humanitarian organizations for extending a ministry of hospitality and advocacy to immigrants present in our community.

One of George W. Bush's goals for his presidency was long-term immigration reform including:

1. Securing our Borders
2. Holding Employers Accountable for the
    Workers they Hire
3. Creating a Temporary Worker Program
4. Bringing Undocumented Workers Already
    in the Country Out of the Shadows
5. Promoting Assimilation into Our Society
    by Teaching New Immigrants English and
    American Values

His proposal was conservative, taking pains to address concerns and fears of citizens, but it was soundly defeated. It mirrored many of OCC's objectives. The situation seems even more difficult now as terrorism becomes tied to immigration. Addressing immigration issues is complicated as is dealing with the economic reality surrounding it. Differentiating between a "refugee" and a "migrant" is becoming harder regarding people fleeing from Central and South America. Addressing the needs of refugees around the world is becoming harder and harder to sustain.

The Pew Research Center reports five facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.:
1. There were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014.
2. The U.S. civilian workforce included 8 million unauthorized immigrants in 2014, accounting for 5% of those who were working or were unemployed and looking for work.
3. Mexicans made up 52% of all unauthorized immigrants in 2014, though their numbers had been declining in recent years. The number of unauthorized immigrants from nations other than Mexico grew by 325,000 since 2009.
4. Six states accounted for 59% of unauthorized immigrants in 2014: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.
5. An increasing proportion of unauthorized immigrants have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade. About two-thirds (66%) of adults in 2014 had been in the U.S. at least that long, compared with 41% in 2005.

There are no hard data regarding the number of currently undocumented residents in the USA who came here through legal channels but stayed beyond their visa expiration date. Politifacts indicates that 40% is a reasonable estimate of the size of this group. 

Much more data about immigration in general is available. The Department of Homeland Security maintains years of data regarding USA Immigration and publishes its Yearbook of Immigration Statistics each year. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services also publishes information on immigration .

Persons seeking to work in the USA labor force such as hotel maids or agriculture field workers may come to the USA through an employer sponsorship. Employers seeking to hire foreign temporary workers must demonstrate the inability to find adequate staffing in the USA in order to gain approval to bring in foreign temporary workers.

Highly skilled workers such as scientists are brought to the USA using an H1b visa. While here legally, they may apply for a Green Card which provides an avenue for permanent residency and a route to citizenship.

Other classifications of immigrants are refugees or those seeking asylum. Per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world has topped 65 million as reported by NPR. [http://www.npr.org/sections/ thetwo-way/2016/06/20/ 482762237/refugees-displaced- people-surpass-60-million-for- first-time-unhcr-says]

This 11-minute video: "Becoming a U.S. Citizen: An Overview of the Naturalization Process" [https://www.uscis.gov/ citizenship/teachers/ educational-products/becoming- us-citizen-overview- naturalization-process] explains the steps necessary to become a USA Citizen.

Most legislation related to immigration is federal in nature. The IMPACT Committee tracks closely any state legislation that might impact immigrants, whether documented or not. Our country is largely a nation of immigrants. We do not have enough citizens to do some of the work that is needed in some areas and immigration is a valid solution. Many of our ancestors arrived in this country exactly to fill employment gaps. It is not a valid solution to bring in foreign workers and pay them substandard wages with no benefits to either fill employment gaps or to do jobs which current citizens could fill. It is not fair to the immigrant nor to the USA citizen.

Many of our churches have programs designed to help refugees and those seeking asylum. Our ability to continue those programs in the USA may get caught up in the frenzy of fear related to terrorism. It is vital to increase our understanding and knowledge of the circumstances related to immigration. Two recently published books that might be of interest are Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh and In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero.

If you would like to receive regular legislative updates in 2017, send an e-mail to okchurches@okchurches.org and ask to be added to the Social Justice Ministry Network e-mail list.
301 N.W. 36th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73118
www.okchurches.org    |  405-525-2928 
The Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director