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Religious leaders call for 'comprehensive reform'
as Congress debates immigration laws

Washington, March 2, 2006 -- As Congress prepares to debate changing immigration laws, prominent religious leaders, including National Council of Churches' General Secretary Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, gathered Wednesday in Simmons Chapel at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill to call for comprehensive immigration reform.

The religious leaders, representing the Catholic, Evangelical Christian, Protestant and Jewish communities, expressed their concern for the current system as well as pending legislation that would bring undue harm to legal immigrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees in this country.

The leaders said they would support legislation to legalize illegal workers, institute a program for temporary workers and reunite families separated by immigration laws. The religious leaders said they were opposing a bill, H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Act of 2005, that would stiffen enforcement and restrict immigration.

According to Edgar, the U.S. must develop immigration policies that uphold the dignity of all people and demonstrate justice to those who seek a home and a better way of life in our country.

"Throughout history, politicians have tried to convince themselves and others that the biblical call to love, the ministry of hospitality and the Sermon on the Mount are naive, impractical and irrelevant to our complex world," said Edgar. "But one cannot -- dare not -- suspend biblical principles simply to advance a political agenda. It comes from an authority higher than Congress, higher than Immigration and Naturalization Services, higher than the President of the United States, and it cannot be ignored," he said.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Rabbi Scott Sperling, Director of the Union for Reform Judaism's Mid-Atlantic Council, also participated in the interfaith press event.

The text of Edgar's statement follows:

In our policy on immigration, the National Council of Churches USA -- which represents 35 member denominations with more than 45 million adherents -- clearly states that under God, persons and nations are responsible to each other and for the welfare of all humanity. God mandates the Israelites in the Book of Exodus to "neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

As Christians we believe that we are called to advocate for policies and mindsets that do not foster hate and perpetuate fear and discrimination. That is why we strongly urge Congress and the President to pass comprehensive immigration reform that upholds the dignity of all people and reflects the principles for which our nation was founded. Except for Native Americans, who were here when the boat landed, and African Americans who were brought here on slave ships, and Mexicans who were the original inhabitants of most of the Southwest, once, we, too, were strangers in this land.

The Bible teaches us that we have all been created in the image of God and God expresses love and concern for all of humanity -- the condition of our lives as well as the condition of our souls. Developing policies based on hate and fear of those who do not look like us -- but, are nevertheless created in the image of God -- is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bad public policy.

Throughout history, politicians have tried to convince themselves and others that the biblical call to love, the ministry of hospitality and the Sermon on the Mount are naive, impractical and irrelevant to our complex world. But one cannot -- dare not -- suspend biblical principles simply to advance a political agenda. It comes from an authority higher than Congress, higher than the Department of Homeland Security, higher than the President of the United States, and it cannot be ignored.

All of us agree that would-be immigrants face unacceptable dangers along the Mexican-U.S. border and hundreds die each year from exposure and thirst.  Let's start at that point and work toward a solution that is workable and permanent: a solution that maintains the security of both borders; that improves economic and labor conditions in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America so that people are no longer driven to risk their lives in order to provide safety and sustenance for their families.

Neither permanent security nor economic justice can be maintained by bigger police forces. Immigration reform should be based on a concern for our neighbors as well as for ourselves. If we want permanent security, it must be based on solutions that provide justice for all, or injustice will fester and threaten us all into future generations.

Senator John McCain pointed out on NPR earlier this week that you can't just gather up 11 million people. "It's impossible." Even more important to bear in mind: the historical precedents of rounding up masses of undesired people are chilling. That is why it is crucial for us to develop comprehensive immigration reform so that we exhibit justice to those immigrants and refugees that seek a home and better way of life in our country.

Contact NCC News: Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350, ltune@ncccusa.org, or Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252, pjenks@ncccusa.org

 


 

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