“Comprehensive immigration reform is a great moral debate,” said Jim Wallis, President and Executive Director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal yesterday at an event at the Center for American Progress. “‘Who would Jesus deport’ is a fair question.”
Wallis joined an expert panel of religious leaders in a discussion about the sense of a moral imperative that has led many in the religious community to work for comprehensive immigration reform. Religious leaders’ perspectives are especially poignant since they are on the front lines in dealing with the daily consequences of an unjust system that causes undue suffering and hardship to the people they serve.
“We in the religious community have a tradition of being the voice for people who have no voice,” said Rev. Alexis Salvatierra, Executive Director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. “There are congregations across the country that see this as a moral issue.”
“Why would someone want to cross the border into a dangerous, hazardous situation?” Wallis asked. “People don’t just come across the border for no reason…This is [about] survival!”
“Apparently we need to be reminded of who we used to be…we come from a tradition of people that were strangers and aliens in the land!” said Rev. Sam Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference.
Fear and insecurity have fueled crass calculations that have prevented reform despite the fact that the country’s immigration system is fundamentally broken. “Our white evangelical brothers…want 12 million deported,” Rodriguez said. “We haven’t seen this amount of angst or trepidation between social classes since the civil rights movement.”
“The Latino community is not a threat to our nation…Latinos are assimilating,” Rodriguez added. “Do we punish them for wanting to survive?”
“The lies that all immigrants are criminals and invaders [are pervasive],” Salvatierra said. “We need to break down the lies…97 percent of undocumented men are working full time!”
“A broken system creates lots of misinformation and fear,” Wallis explained. “When people are not afraid they will be more generous and compassionate.” Salvatierra agreed and said, “Fear makes people irrational…Immigrants become the scapegoat”
The panel discussed the larger issue exposed by this irrational fear. “Immigration is not an isolated issue; it’s part of the whole narrative of injustice that we’re dealing with,” Wallis said. “Middle class people are struggling…It’s no wonder they are afraid.”
The panel discussed how they see all these issues as overlapping. “Caring for others is not in opposition to caring for yourself,” Salvatierra said. “We are all connected. That is the principle at the root of our faith.”
“It’s not just global economy questions. It’s solidarity questions,” agreed Wallis. “There are large constituencies of people who see [helping immigrants] as a faith issue. At the heart of our work is poverty.”
“We need to get these people out of the shadows,” Rodriguez added. “[They deserve the chance] to become productive participants in what we call the American experience.”
For more information about the event, please see: