The Moral Urgency of Immigration Reform
“This is a day that the Lord has made.”
Those words begin a very popular worship song among evangelical Christians. And they were the first words that came to my mind when I stood alongside the widest spectrum of evangelical leaders we have ever seen at a gathering yesterday morning on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. We were there to lead a day of prayer and discussion with the leaders of the House of Representatives about the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform — more specifically to fix a system that is not only broken, but cruel for millions of people.
The whole day was sponsored and led by the Evangelical Immigration Table, one of the most hopeful signs in many years of how Christians can come together to make a difference. At the press conference, Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch, speaking as a journalist, said he has never seen such evangelical unity over any other issue.
Just blocks away from our political leaders, we all walked into a church packed with Christians from all across the country who traveled to meet and talk to their elected representatives. For many years, our Hispanic Christian brothers and sisters have led the way on this issue of immigration reform, but yesterday, I said to the crowd, “We are all here now.” The pews and aisles were filled with worshipers from every racial and ethnic community, and across the generational spectrum — Hispanic, Anglo-American, African-American, Asian-American, pastors and young people. The worship was moving, and you could sense the passion in the sanctuary.
My role was to “close” the service. But after feeling the power of faith in the room, I said, “We are not closing worship today; we’re just going to move it” to the United States Capitol. This movement has prayed its way to changing the immigration system and Pray4Reform has been our call. And yesterday, as we have been doing across the country, we gave feet to our prayers.
We had 90 meetings with members of Congress and their top staff. Our delegations met with those Republican leaders who will be key in the decisions made about immigration reform like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Immigration Reform Caucus member Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Immigration and Border Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and many others.
Most importantly, evangelical pastors and leaders met with their members of Congress, remembering that the most eloquent voice to a politician is one in their own constituency. One of those leaders that I met with said it well: “This is new — the new factor. In all the immigration votes I’ve been a part of, we didn’t have evangelicals involved like this. You are a grassroots movement that has real influence on the Right, on Republicans, and you could make a crucial difference on this.”
But Washington moves slowly, as we again heard yesterday. So our message to the lawmakers was clear — and grew right out of our worship service in the morning — moral urgency.
Some say that we should wait again, wait longer to work on the immigration system, wait until later, do it slowly, over time, down the road, piece by piece, and not act now.
But our message was this: the time has come to see the urgency of fixing this broken immigration system and begin to heal the nation.
Yesterday we called upon our lawmakers to take up the urgency of what we consider as more than a political issue; it is a moral task.
— The urgency of protecting families and keeping children with their parents. Defending and reuniting families that have been shattered is an urgent issue for people of faith.
— The urgency of bringing peaceful and productive people out of the shadows of fear and insecurity. In our religious language it is time to cast out fear and have people live unafraid.
— The urgency of protecting vulnerable people who must live without critical health care and even legal protection. Moving stories were told by pastors — of immigrants regularly robbed, and women raped who can’t seek the protection of the police, and injured people unable to seek medical care or even go to the emergency room so instead curl up alone with their wounds and hope they don’t die.
— The urgency of young people who came to this country as only children, doing what their parents told them to. They have gone to school and made this their home. They have almost no relationship to their countries of origin. These “DREAMers” are Americans now and should be regarded as such.
— The urgency for Christians to be faithful to Christ, who tells us that how we treat “the stranger” is how we treat him. As Rev. Gabriel Salguero preached to the congregation, “Tell the Congress that we are here to welcome Jesus.” To not welcome the immigrants among us is to not welcome Christ; and we will be held accountable for that.
— The urgency of our unity as the body of Christ, which was so dramatically on display yesterday. Immigrant believers, including the undocumented, as now part of our churches, and when one part of our body suffers, we all suffer. When one part of our body rejoices, we all rejoice.
And it’s time for this Congress to feel the urgency — to make immigration reform an exception from their polarization and gridlock and finally show the nation that they can lead, govern, and actually solve a problem in a bipartisan way. It’s time for Republicans and Democrats to do something positive together for the good of the nation.
We told our members of Congress that we can no longer wait to fix this broken system and heal the wounds that it has caused. This is an urgent moral mission and the time to act is now. They listened, and I believe they heard.
And they know they will keep hearing from us until we as a nation have finally achieved comprehensive immigration reform.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.