By E.A. Barrera
"When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
In a March 9 press release, the San Diego Episcopal Diocese issued a broad statement calling for legalization of all immigrants and the removal of any military presence along the border.
“Currently undocumented aliens should have reasonable opportunity to pursue permanent residency,” said San Diego Episcopal Bishop James Mathis. “Workers should be allowed to enter the United States legally 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 to all immigrants. Enforcement of national borders and immigration policies should be proportional and humane.”
The San Diego Episcopal Dioceses coordinated their statement with a national proclamation by the US Episcopal Church calling for “fundamental and humane immigration principles” and announcing that the church would lobby Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.
“We will let Congress know what we like in the bill and what needs improvement,” said Mike Angell, the University of California, San Diego Episcopal Campus Missioner.
The Episcopal Church has been waging a battle against punitive immigration policies for more than two years. According to a December 2005 article by writer Jan Nunley for the Episcopal News Service, a resolution of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council was adopted during the church’s June 2005 meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. That resolution stated “the option of becoming a permanent resident and even a citizen was an essential requirement of any comprehensive reform package which the church would support.
“Those who contribute to the economy and their adopted communities should be offered a chance to stay legally in the US,” said Richard Parkins, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries. “Moreover, returning folks and making them come back as guest workers probably creates circumstances where many will attempt to stay once their temporary status has expired. A policy of return cancels many of the benefits of an orderly and transparent system of allowing workers to come to the US to make a needed contribution to our economy.”
In Nunley’s ENS article, Parkins said that a failure to provide attention to the economic pressures motivating people to endure the risks of crossing the US/Mexico border which he said was to escape “grinding poverty” was a serious flaw in the Bush Administration’s “understanding of our immigration crisis.”
“While legislation dealing with immigrants must take into account the priority of national security... assigning equal priority to a practical, just and fair system for allowing workers and their families to come to the US to earn a living, be protected as workers, and offered full participation in the society to which they will be making a contribution does not contradict the importance of security,” said Parkins.
Bishop Mathis said the San Diego Episcopal Church recognized the duty and right of a sovereign nation to protect and defend its borders, but said the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego “deplored any action by the Government of the United States which unduly emphasizes enforcement, including militarization of the border between the United States and Mexico, as the primary response to immigrants entering the United States to work.”
Mathis said the San Diego Episcopal Church was committed to “welcoming strangers as a matter of Christian responsibility” and said the church would advocate for the “well-being and protection” of immigrants.
“We need to start looking at immigration from the perspective of Jesus Christ,” said Mathis during a forum on immigration last December. “We are all part of the same body in Jesus. God does not distinguish his children by racial, ethnic and geographical boundaries.”
In a veiled political message to members of Congress and other political leaders, Mathis also made the point that the church would “undertake a campaign to educate Episcopalians as to the plight of refugees, immigrants, and migrants” which would include information about the root causes of migration.