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ORLANDO, August 22, 2011 – Affirming its immigrant roots and the Biblical call to care for newcomers, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted in support of two resolutions that encourage support for immigration reform and call on congregations to actively protest punitive state legislation like Arizona’s SB-1070 and Alabama’s HB-56. Passed by overwhelming majorities of the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, both measures reaffirm the concern Lutherans have for the vulnerable undocumented populations in their communities, especially those who came to this country as young children and would be eligible to earn a path to citizenship under the proposed DREAM Act.
“America has been built by the hard work of generations of newcomers who have cherished education, committed themselves to hard work, and have returned great benefits to our society, churches and local communities,” stated the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, in a letter urging members of Congress to pass the DREAM Act. “The children who would benefit from the DREAM Act should have the opportunity to continue to pursue their educations, to work, to earn a path to citizenship in the United States and be protected from being returned to a country they do not know.”
The ELCA’s renewed support of the DREAM Act comes at a time when the Obama Administration is also seeking ways to protect vulnerable undocumented youth from being removed from the country they call home. Yesterday, the White House announced new guidelines for immigration enforcement to provide the administration with more discretion, allowing for individual review and possible dismissal of cases against immigrants who pose no threat to the country.
Members of Congress also applauded the ECLA’s actions in support of immigration reform. “Faith leaders have the unique ability to work with their congregations and communities to build support for reform,” wrote Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), praising the ELCA for its leadership on immigration issues. “I commend the ELCA for its leadership on this issue and join with them in urging Congress and the President to listen to the American people and reform immigration.” Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), the original sponsor of the DREAM Act, and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, also sent letters to Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson commending the resolution supporting immigration reform and the DREAM Act.
Counter to the prevailing anti-immigrant rhetoric that blames newcomers for increased economic hardship, the ELCA rightfully acknowledged that “the economic well-being of the United States is in many ways dependent upon the contribution of immigrants and refugees.”
“Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has over 70 years of experience working with people who come to this country seeking protection and a new beginning. These families bring with them the resiliency and strength that comes with overcoming incredible hardship,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “Our faith and our experience teach us that our immigrant brothers and sisters are not part of our economic problem but key participants in the solution. They make incredible contributions and drive our country forward.”
The assembly also passed a resolution that stands with the marginalized immigrants in states like Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia, where harsh and punitive laws have sought to further target foreign-born residents. Acknowledging that these laws are a misguided response to the frustrating failure by Washington to enact comprehensive immigration reform, the resolution pledged the denomination’s “support of and encouragement for all efforts to prevent the enactment of punitive and unjust federal and state laws that target immigrants” and encouraged congregations to “protest laws and proposed laws that ignore the Bible’s witness to care for the stranger among us”.
“Every day I see the consequences of our country’s broken and outdated immigration system in the plight of families torn apart, exploited workers, and the debilitating fear of detection and arrest by authorities,” said the Rev. H. Julian Gordy, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Synod. “Because the Church values family unity, justice, equity, compassion, and the humane treatment of all people, we are deeply concerned about the immigration legislation that is coming out of state legislatures.”
About Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with and on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.