Across all states, there are committed supporters of immigrants, people who recognize that it’s honorable to be welcoming and kind. I’m honored to interview some of these leaders. Today, I’d like to share a conversation with Pastor Mark Cerniglia, Senior Pastor at Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Greenville, South Carolina. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the email interview.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): How did you first become involved in immigrants and immigration reform?
Pastor Mark Cerniglia (MC): I chaired a task force for the South Carolina Synod to develop a strategy for Latino Outreach in the Synod. As part of that strategy, we realized that advocacy issues related to immigration reform were essential to serving the Latino community.
I would add a personal note that at the beginning of the 20th century, my grandfather ran away from the violence created by the Mafia in his home in Sicily and entered the U.S. illegally. He was later provided a pathway to legitimacy. His descendants have defended the U.S. in four different wars, three as career military officers, and one (my son) sacrificing his life in the current war. Also among my grandfather’s descendants there are two teachers, two nurses, a chemist, a chief of police, and a pastor (me). Immigrants tend to be the most courageous, hardest working, and most entrepreneurial persons, and they pass these values on to their descendants. My youngest son recently married a Brazilian citizen and she was able to obtain permanent residency, so we are one of those cross-cultural families.
CP: You recently participated in an immigration roundtable. What were some topics that came up?
MC: On August 20 I participated in a roundtable with leaders of agriculture, tourism/hospitality, construction, law enforcement, chambers of commerce, and the faith community. Staff members from two offices of U.S. representatives were present. We talked about how immigration reform can help businesses and industries, how it can add to our communities and economy, and how faith compels us to have compassion for newcomers in our midst and treat them humanely.
CP: Participants of the roundtable were diverse. What aspects of immigration united them all?
MC: I was surprised to hear the business representatives and law enforcement officials talk about treating people humanely and with compassion. We also spoke about the effect the current situation has on families, many of whom have members with different types of legal status. We also recognized the impossibility of deporting everyone in the U.S. who does not have documents. Thus, there needs to be some pathway for these persons to come out of the shadows, make appropriate amends, and gain legitimacy. The one point that everyone agrees upon is that the current system is not working effectively and needs reform.
CP: I hear you are planning an appointment with your representative, Trey Gowdy, who has been very active against immigrants and humane reform. What do you plan to say to him to help shift his view on migrants?
MC: One of the points that I would like to make with Mr. Gowdy is that I often hear people express disappointment with the strong partisan gridlock in Congress. The people want to see examples of bipartisanship. Immigration reform is an area where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground.
CP: How does your congregation welcome newcomers and immigrants?
MC: My congregation supports an After School Program for children from immigrant families at our neighboring elementary school. The children are bilingual and very fluent in English, but their parents are not, and therefore cannot help their children with homework. We use volunteers from our congregation and from a local university to help the children with their homework. Also, through our food bank, we provide healthy meals for the children and food for their families. In addition, we provide office space for the case manager for refugee resettlement from Lutheran Services Carolinas. When refugees arrive, we have helped provide furniture and other household goods to help them get established. Currently the congregation is trying to figure out how to respond to the spiritual needs of the Spanish speaking families who participate in our After School Program.