(ECLA) — Nearly 60 of 65 synod bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) expressed their concern over new state immigration laws in Nov. 2 letters to President Barack Obama and members of Congress. In their letter, the synod bishops asked that both Congress and the administration work together on a complete federal overhaul of the U.S. immigration system and offered provisions for what the reform should entail.
The synod bishops said federal reform should restore trust in communities and include:
- An earned pathway to lawful permanent residency and eventual U.S. citizenship for immigrants and their families who learn English and pay back taxes.
- Expeditious reunification of families and protection against separating families.
- Expansion of legal avenues for workers to allow immigrants to migrate to the United States in a safe and legal manner.
- Decreased use of immigration detention, improvement in detention conditions with increased access to medical assistance, pastoral care and legal council and the increased use of community-based programs that assist immigrants who do need to be incarcerated.
- Improved border policies that treat all individuals with respect and allow the U.S. government to focus on individuals involved in the trafficking of people, drugs, weapons or other dangerous people seeking entry.
- Increased programs and resources to help immigrants participate fully in U.S. social and civic life.
“The fair treatment of immigrants is a core religious value and welcoming the stranger is welcoming a child of God,” wrote the synod bishops.
Six U.S. states have passed immigration laws that are “shortsighted and misguided,” the synod bishops wrote. Because this church values family unity, justice, equity, compassion and the humane treatment of all people, the synod bishops said they are concerned that the individual immigration laws of each state “damage the social fabric of our communities.”
“We are particularly troubled by the laws which would criminalize churches, church ministries and church members that serve all people who need assistance – regardless of their immigration status,” they wrote.
“The ELCA believes and teaches that all people are created in the image of God and are beloved of God. In our scriptures, we are instructed to care for the stranger and to love the immigrant living among us,” they wrote, adding that the ELCA carries out social ministry programs, initiates programs to aid all God’s people and partners with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is one of the nation’s leading agencies in welcoming and advocating for refugees and immigrants. Based in Baltimore, it works on behalf of the ELCA, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The letters to the president and Congress were initiated by Bishop H. Julian Gordy of the ELCA Southeastern Synod, Atlanta, and Bishop Michael W. Rinehart of the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, Houston.
“I am overjoyed that so many of our leaders are willing to speak boldly for immigrants,” said Rinehart.
“This is a key moral issue of our day. Are we going to welcome the stranger or are we not? Will we be the city on the hill or a mean-spirited gated-country for the elite? Will our laws make immigration impossible through exorbitant fees, racist quotas and decade-long waiting periods? I hope not. The America most of us know and love has open arms for huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” said Rinehart.
Gordy said he’s grateful that “our church has spoken clearly on behalf of immigrants living among us, both in this letter, signed by a large majority of our bishops and in the actions of our Churchwide Assembly in August. It is appropriate that the church, which counts migrants like Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam and the wandering Hebrews as its spiritual ancestors and the migrant infant Jesus as it’s Lord, speak against and resist these unhelpful state laws, passed in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.”
“Since the passing of anti-immigration legislation in Alabama and Georgia, two of the states in the synod I serve, undocumented and documented immigrants are leaving our communities and our congregations to move to more immigrant friendly states,” Gordy said. “This exodus does harm to our communities, farms and businesses. Such state laws do not succeed in addressing our immigration crisis. They do, however, succeed in fostering a spirit of hostility, suspicion and ethnic discrimination in our communities. Our immigrant church must speak out and resist these laws.”
The ELCA synod bishops’ letters follow two Nov. 1 letters sent to the president and members of Congress by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, who serves on Obama’s advisory council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to “declare its support of and encouragement for all efforts to prevent the enactment of punitive and unjust federal and state laws that target immigrants.” This action also calls for leaders of this church to support comprehensive U.S. immigration reform and the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), legislation that would provide a path for citizenship for undocumented high school graduates.
The churchwide assembly is the ELCA’s highest legislative authority serving on behalf of the ELCA’s 4.2 million members.