The Episcopal Church's director of migration ministries said March 15 that Episcopalians ought to oppose immigration legislation that focuses exclusively on enforcement, without recognizing the human dimensions of the system's failures.
Richard Parkins, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), issued his statement in cooperation with the church's Office of Government Relations (OGR).
"If the Congress misses this chance to produce a balanced bill which acknowledges that the U.S. needs workers and thus requires a legal and just way for this need to be recognized, we shall condemn our nation to an unjust and unworkable immigration system and, in the process, dishonor our tradition as a hospitable nation," Parkins said.
In June 2005 the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church set forth principles that any modification of the U.S. immigration system should embody, including an expanded number of visas which would allow workers to enter the U.S. legally with their rights protected and the prospect of being united with close family members upheld. The council's resolution also advocated that those now in the U.S. "without papers" be offered a chance to remain legally if certain conditions were met.
At its most recent meeting in Philadelphia, the council expressed its opposition to any immigration measure that would make it unlawful for faith-based or humanitarian organizations to act to relieve the suffering of undocumented immigrants.
The council's action is a piece of a nationwide response from faith groups protesting the attempt to make it a felony to help suffering immigrants, regardless of their status.
"Our church has spoken strongly and eloquently on justice for immigrants," Parkins said. "We must now translate this into action by reaching Congress with our concern that they move in the right direction."
The Senate Judiciary Committee may send to the Senate floor this week a bill introduced by its chairman, Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania). Faith-based groups have strongly opposed provisions of Specter's bill which parallel House of Representatives' H.R. 4437 - legislation introduced by representatives James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and Peter King (R-New York).
The House bill fails to provide a viable way for a significant number of workers to enter the country legally, makes no provision for reducing the backlog on family visas, and criminalizes the presence of about 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S., Parkins said.
"To criminalize millions of undocumented workers and to assume that their deportation will largely solve our immigration problem is to miss the mark entirely," he said. "Many of these persons are already productive members of our workforce; and to hope to return them to the grinding poverty which forces them to leave is both impractical and immoral. We are already gaining a benefit from their labor, so why not honor that fact and allow them to openly and legally add their equity to the workforce?"
The Washington-based Office of Government Relations broadcast an alert to Episcopalians March 15 urging them to immediately contact their senators, requesting their support of comprehensive immigration reform which embodies the principles which the church has adopted, and opposing the incorporation of provisions of the House bill which make enforcement, detention, and deportation the exclusive focus of U.S. immigration policy. Given the prospect of legislation being reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a few days, the OGR asked Episcopalians to act now.
For more information on immigration reform, please contact Richard Parkins or the Rev John Denaro of EMM at 1-800-334-7626 or OGR's Molly Keane at 202-547-7300.