Thousands of immigrants, their families, and an assortment of immigrant rights advocates staged rallies around the nation April 10 in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Among those speaking out in favor of reforming the US immigration system, to allow a substantial increase in the number of workers who could legally enter the US as well offering a pathway to legal status for about 11 million residents here without status, were religious leaders and persons of faith from all traditions. Faith communities have been major players in the recent upsurge of support for immigrant rights.
At the Washington, D.C., rally, the Episcopal Church was represented by the Church's Office of Government Relations (OGR) as well as Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM). Bishop Suffragan David Jones of Virginia was among the church leaders who were introduced at the rally. Jones offered a statement in support of comprehensive immigration reform, expressing opposition to House Bill 4437 as "having no place in our great country."
EMM director Richard Parkins noted that "with Congress at an impasse in moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform, this phenomenal outpouring of support for reforming our failed immigration system should spur positive action by the Senate when Congress returns from recess. The cross section of opposition to the enforcement only thrust of the House bill and strong affirmation for the Senate bill primarily authored by Senators McCain and Kennedy is the kind of momentum that Congress and the Administration would have difficulty in ignoring."
OGR and EMM were instrumental in alerting Episcopalians throughout the church to pro-immigrant rights rallies in over 100 US cities. Reflecting upon the massive endorsement for comprehensive immigration reform, Molly Keane, legislative analyst for OGR, commented that "this is truly a history making event. I feel encouraged that Congress might heed this call for making our immigration system more just."
Episcopalians are being urged by both OGR and EMM to use the Congressional recess to contact their senators, affirming their endorsement of legislation which modifies the immigration system to bring more workers to the country legally and to allow those now here without status who have been contributing members of their communities to move toward permanent residence and eventual citizenship.
An especially objectionable provision of the House bill, which the Senate version of immigration reform seeks to correct, is the provision which criminalizes those who render assistance to undocumented immigrants. In his statement, the Virginia bishop pointed out that "it is the natural response of a person of faith to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need, not to ask for documents." Bishop Jones described the House bill as "doing violence to the concept of loving one's neighbor. No legislation can remove the obligation to provide aid."
"We finally have a chance to reform our unjust immigration system. This is an urgent matter to which our collective advocacy must be directed during the coming two weeks," commented Parkins.