More and more of interfaith events are being held in support of immigration reform. The way people from different backgrounds and faiths are coming together on this issue shows how immigration truly affects us all. Today, I’m delighted to bring you an interview with Pastor Sue Briner, Bishop’s Associate for the Southwestern Texas Synod of the ELCA. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the interview over email.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What personal experiences have led you to become active with immigration?
Pastor Sue Briner (SB): I myself am an immigrant. We moved to the United States from Canada in 1978 when my father had a job opportunity here. We were welcomed here and our family thrived as a result. Our participation in the economies and communities we have been a part of have, I trust, made a positive impact on them. I feel called to advocate for others to have those same opportunities.
CP: You recently participated in an immigration reform event hosted by Austin Interfaith. It was well attended with more than 200 participants. Why do you think so many were motivated to attend?
SB: I cannot speak for everyone, but for the dozen or so Lutheran leaders and other congregational members who attended, I can say that at our synod’s assembly this past May, we approved two resolutions which dealt specifically with immigration. These resolutions were a call to action for Lutherans in Southwestern Texas and for the national church to support compassionate immigration reform that keeps families together, provides a reasonable pathway to citizenship, and upholds humane treatment of all immigrants. These resolutions also call for us to educate ourselves as to the issues involved in immigration, and to advocate on behalf of immigrants. Participating in this Austin Interfaith event is one such way we are doing that. Our Bishop, Rev. Dr. Ray Tiemann, wrote a recent op-ed article in the Austin Statesman, reminding us of our own history of immigrants, our faith that calls us to welcome the stranger, and the prosperity that comes to all who live in our great country, through these working immigrants. He called us as the church and as a community to work with one another for immigration reform. So we continue to look for ways to do that.
CP: Testimonies were given by workers, families, and others touched by our immigration system. Did any stories stick out to you in particular?
SB: The fear that immigrant families live with every day; that whenever they drop their children at school and go off to work, that something as simple as a routine traffic stop might mean detaining and deportation. So families never know whether they will see their children/parents/spouse again at the end of the day. The emotional toll that takes on these families over time can be incredible.
CP: What were you most surprised to learn?
SB: That the construction industry, one of our biggest contributors to our economy here in Texas, has approximately 50% of its workforce who are undocumented immigrants. If they were deported, it would have a huge impact on us as a state. So even if we purely looked at immigration reform from the prosperity angle, it is necessary for us as a state to thrive. If we can begin to educate others who might now have the same history and faith as we do, we can at least appeal to their sense of what is good for the state.
CP: What is the current atmosphere towards immigration in central Texas? Do you feel that it is changing?
SB: I am hopeful that as more people get educated, and that as people of faith take action, we can begin to make a difference. Advocating for those who have no voice is one of our calls. As Lutheran Christians, we don’t always understand what that means. In this Interfaith event, we learned some practical ways to do this; educate others by sharing the stories and information we heard at this event. Call on our U.S. representatives to act now to pass comprehensive immigration reform. These are things every one of us has the ability to do. So what are we waiting for?