WHAT CAN WE DO TO SUPPORT THE IMMIGRANT COMMUNITY?
By James Mendez
One of my favorite verses of scripture is Micah 6:8. While there are many different translations of the verse, the following is from the New International Version (NIV):
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are clear what it means to “To act justly and to love mercy” when it comes to treatment of immigrants. As Episcopalian Christians we are called to love one another and to welcome the immigrant.
How do we do that when from a demographic point of view there is little in common between the members of the Episcopal Church and with the immigrants that have arrived in America in the past 50 years? Currently, and historically, the Episcopal Church has been one of the most segregated churches in the country — 90% of Episcopalians are white compared to the 66% of adults in the US who are white. 4% of Episcopalians are black, and only about 2% of Episcopalians identify as immigrant or native-born Latino. Few members of our congregations speak Spanish, probably fewer members have friends or neighbors that are Latino or immigrants.
Even though there may be a lack of commonality between our congregations and the immigrant communities, our Christian teachings tell us we should be working for a just and humane immigration policy. Since at least 1985, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has advocated for just and comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. The Episcopal Church has been asking its parishioners to call upon Congress “to enact immigration legislation that recognizes the human realities of undocumented people in this country and that provides asylum for those fleeing political repression.”
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 NIV
God “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”
Many of the current administration’s policies should disturb Episcopalians. Since January 2017, instead of loving the “foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing,” the current administration has unrelentingly attacked both legal and illegal immigration into the United States. The administration worked to ban certain religious groups from entering the country. The administration made the process to enter the US more difficult than it was in the past. In an attempt to discourage people from coming to the US the administration detained people in inhumane conditions at the southern border, and separated children from their families. The administration decreased the numbers of refugees that the US will accept and instituted policies that make it more difficult to find communities that will accept refugees.
Most recently, in August 2019, the administration changed long-standing policies on the public-charge rule. Previously, policies that were being contested in the courts would not be enforced until all the legal issues had been resolved. In February 2020, going against long-standing precedent, the Supreme Court allowed the new public-charge rule to be instituted nationally while the contested policy continues to work its way through the appeals courts. This change in the public-charge rule by the administration makes it more difficult for low-income immigrants to enter the US, and also once here, the new public-charge policy makes them ineligible to become citizens if they should receive one or more of certain designated public benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), Medicaid, or Section 8 housing assistance. As many as “69 percent of the roughly 5.5 million people who were granted green cards over the past five years would have had at least one negative factor under the rule — which officials could have used as justification to reject their applications for immigration benefits.” This policy change to not feed the hungry, not provide medical care for the sick and to not house the poor is antithetical to basic Christian teachings. (Matthew 25:31-46)
James 2:14-17 NIV “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin responded to the cruel and inhumane policies the current administration instituted towards both lawful and unlawful immigrants. In 2017, the Diocesan Bishop, The Rt. Rev’d. David C. Rice, proposed the formation of the San Joaquin Diocese Immigration Task Force, co-chaired by Deacon Tom Hampson and Deacon Nancy Key. In late 2019, the Immigration Task Force became a commission of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin called SJRAISE (San Joaquin Refugee And Immigrant Support and Empowerment). SJRAISE has been working to “identify ministry partners
oordinate related activities throughout the Diocese (like the May 2019 Pilgrimage of Hope) and to support congregations in the education, discernment and response activities to support immigrants in the Dioceses.”
The Episcopal Church has also advised us of concrete ways that we can help support undocumented immigrants in our community. We can pray together, raise awareness, and provide community forums for undocumented immigrants to share their stories and needs as SJRAISE did with its Immigration 101 Forum in March 2019, at St. James Cathedral. We can demand through our congressional representatives comprehensive, humane and just reform of immigration policy which addresses not only border security but would also include:
1. Arranging for a pathway to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants that are already here such as DREAMERS and DACA.
2. Guarantee legal representation for immigration offenses.
3. Reduce the consequences of civil immigration offenses. These are
not criminal offenses. There is no need to detain people with minimum risk to public safety. Rather than imprisonment and detention in private, for profit prisons and detention centers, consider alternatives such as paying a penalty and adjusting their immigration status rather than be deported.
4. Ease the rules to obtain authorization from the US government to work in the US legally and with documentation. This would also decrease the likelihood of exploitation by employers as occurs now with undocumented workers. It would also eliminate issues of fraud regarding the hiring of undocumented workers and allow them to legally pay taxes, contribute to Social Security and Medicare.
5. Ease the restrictions on visas for family members of US residents and provide a generalized lottery for visas for high demand jobs, without regard to nationality.
6. Rather than decreasing the number of refugees allowed into the US the US should accept more refugees. The US is a country with an abundance of resources and plenty of room being that the “U.S. is the third-largest country in the world by landmass and the 179th- most densely populated.”
As SJRAISE moves forward this coming year we hope to see and hear you helping us to follow what we are Called To Be... Just, Merciful, Generous and Loving.
Dr. Jim Mendez is a member of St James Episcopal Cathedral and SJRAISE.