Leaders are pushing for immigration reform and understanding in all parts of our country. I’m honored to bring you the thoughts of some of these dedicated people on the front lines. Today, I’d like to highlight an interview with Rev. Scott Anderson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC), a community of Christian denominations devoted to social justice. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the email interview.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What past experiences have driven you to become a proponent of immigration and immigration reform?
Rev. Scott Anderson (SA): I became passionate about the need for immigration reform when I was pastor of a Presbyterian Church in California that “nested” a congregation of Southeast Asian refugees in our building. Over time our lives intertwined, and I gained first-hand knowledge of the hopes and heartaches of refugees and immigrants.
CP: How has the WCC supported the fight for new immigration laws?
SA: Our work has taken place at two levels. First, education: The WCC produced a congregational study guide: “Becoming Welcoming Communities: Immigration Reform in Light of Biblical Faith,” which was sent to every church in the state. The guide helps folks in local churches connect their own family history of migration with the experiences of recent immigrants to Wisconsin along with making the linkages between the Biblical story and current public policy options under consideration in Congress.
Second, advocacy: We have a multi-year collaboration with WISDOM, the constellation of congregation-based community organizing groups around the state and Voces de la Frontera, the largest immigrant rights group in Wisconsin, to organize the religious community in four key congressional district to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, especially a path to citizenship. We have been organizing community forums, town hall meetings with representatives, letters to the editor, op-eds in local papers and letter writing campaigns. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) is playing a key role in the House of Representatives on this issue.
CP: What has been most motivational about different churches coming together in support of immigration?
SA: Many congregations in Wisconsin minister to immigrant families and communities. These relationships often provide the motivation to organize and advocate for policy changes that will help alleviate the hardships millions of recent immigrants are facing. The Wisconsin Council of Churches, which is the institutional embodiment of collaborative advocacy work in our state for people of faith, has become one important vehicle to express the collective voice of the religious community to members of Congress.
CP: How would immigration reform affect Wisconsin?
SA: We have a large number of immigrants serving the agriculture and especially the dairy industry in our state. Because of legal status issues, many of these immigrants live the shadows of mainstream society, cannot access services they need, and are disconnected from loved ones in their country of origin. Comprehensive immigration reform will address many of these concerns.
CP: How have people in your community extended a hand to immigrants or refugees?
SA: As I mentioned above, many congregations in our state, which find their roots in immigrant populations arriving on our shores in previous generations, minister to immigrants and their families who are in difficult circumstances. Churches provide a sense of extended family and serve as a community of care for vulnerable populations. It’s no surprise that the religious community is one of the most passionate constituencies in our nation that supports comprehensive immigration reform.