A week ago now, “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” failed in the Senate. 12 million people live and work in the United States without documents. We have a broken immigration system that cannot manage or deal with our labor needs, the people already here, and those on their way. People blamed the failure on the massive gap between those who called, wrote, emailed, or yelled at senators calling the bill “amnesty” over those of us who want desperately to see the system overhauled. I called, wrote, and lobbied, but I understand why the support was unbalanced. While it was easy to use the buzzword “amnesty” to shoot down this bill which was “too liberal for conservatives,” the bill represented such a weak reform that many of us had a hard time fully supporting it.
The Episcopal Church identified five priorities as the Church Policy on Immigration Reform at General Convention last summer. They are:
Undocumented aliens should have reasonable opportunity to pursue permanent residency.
Legal workers should be allowed to enter the United States to respond to recognized labor force needs.
Close family members should be allowed to reunite without undue delay with individuals lawfully present in the United States.
Fundamental U.S. principles of legal due process should be granted all persons.
Enforcement of national borders and immigration policies should be proportional and humane.
The immigration reform bill before the Senate arguably addressed none of these concerns, so it was hard to support. The difficulty has become that the situation is so bad currently, that ANY change seems like a good one. Any attempt to deal with the brokenness of the system is received with open arms. The proposed bill would have required a “touchback,” (the worker would have to return to their home country and wait in line as part of the application for residency), and a $5000 fee. The point system was a complicated mess which did not ensure that workers would respond to labor needs in a way that ensured their dignity. There were no measures dealing with family reunification. The bill did not address the current mistreatment of immigrants rights by U.S. agents, and the enforcement of the border was militaristic. We can do better. We have to do better.
Friday last week, the same day I read that the version of C.I.R. failed, I received an email from Honduras. One of my boys from the year I spent as a chaplain in Tegucigalpa (not pictured above because I don’t want him identified) wrote to say he wouldn’t see me when I visit later this summer because he’s heading north. In his words, “You can’t imagine where I am. I know that the journey ahead is arduous, but I believe it could change my life and the life of my family if I find work in the U.S.” These words come from a young man I came to consider a close friend, from someone I finish writing saying “love you brother.” Why can our country not see that the people arriving here each day are human beings, persons capable of love and being loved? I am scared for my friend who has a tough journey past criminals in Chiapas, border agents in Mexico and then the U.S. ICE.
The Bible calls us to “welcome the stranger among us.” (See Exodus 21:22 and Leviticus 19:34) When I arrived in Honduras I didn’t speak the language well, had no friends, and was isolated from all I knew. The welcome I received from a group of boys astounded me. They taught me that I am worthwhile not because of who I know, or what I can do, but because I am a person created by God. They taught me this by loving me and including me though I had little or nothing to offer them. Most of the boys dream of taking the skills they are learning to make a new life for their family by working in the U.S. I can do no less than seek to welcome them, and dream for a world where all are welcome.