Presbyterian Church (USA) agencies are joining like-minded religious groups in promoting a “National Faith Call-In Day” for liberalized immigration. The Office of Immigration Issues, under the Stated Clerk, invited Presbyterians: “On Tuesday, January 22, let’s welcome the new Congress by making sure they know that people of faith demand humane immigration reform in 2013.”
Church members were urged to call “BOTH of your Senators” and “[t]ell them that as their constituent and as a person of faith, you want immigration reform that provides a pathway to FULL CITIZENSHIP [for illegal immigrants] and prioritizes FAMILY UNITY [of families in which some members are legal U.S. residents and others are not].” (Capitalization in original.) The office provided downloadable postcards encouraging senators: “Let’s start the New Year with hope and justice for aspiring citizens.”
A letter from Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons also employed the phrase “aspiring citizens”—apparently a reference to persons who entered or remained in the United States in violation of immigration laws. According to Parsons, “The General Assembly has set forth several elements of a just reform:
- A pathway to citizenship;
- Focus on family unity;
- Address backlogs in family and employment immigration;
- Establishing a fair process for people who want to come to the United States in the future, to do so with authorization;
- Not impose punitive fines and wait times.”
Parsons’ preferred measures all point toward expanding the flow of legal immigrants into the United States. They would also make it easier for illegal immigrants to gain legal status, thus likely increasing the incentives for illegal immigration. The Stated Clerk’s list contains no measures to enforce any restrictions on immigration under current or future law. Indeed, his criticism of “punitive fines and wait times” suggests that penalties for violating immigration law should be so light as to have little deterrent effect.
The PCUSA Office of Immigration Issues is a rare denominational program that has seen its staff grow in a period of budgetary austerity. For Presbyterians wishing to lobby their senators on immigration issues, the office offers a 26-page “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Toolkit.” The toolkit is filled with facts and arguments to buttress a pro-immigration argument.
Church members who relied on the toolkit would have no way of knowing—much less refuting—the arguments from the other side of the issue. The outside resources recommended in the toolkit are all pro-immigration groups. Leading voices calling for the enforcement of immigration restrictions, such as Numbers USA and the Center for Immigration Studies, receive no mention.
The January 22 call-in day is not an isolated endeavor of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Instead it is a joint project of the Interfaith Immigration Coalitionhttp://www.interfaithimmigration.org/, to which the PCUSA belongs. “There is a clear need to expand legal avenues for workers to migrate to the United States,” the coalition asserts in a position paper. “To truly decrease unauthorized immigration, the United States should improve access to a fair and humane legal immigration system, increasing and improving the efficiency of ports of entry, expanding visa availability, and eliminating application backlogs.” Other member organizations of the coalition include agencies of the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ; the evangelical Sojourners and World Relief; and liberal Catholic and Jewish groups.
The coalition characteristically speaks of “unauthorized” or “undocumented” immigration, rather than “illegal immigration.” It opposes almost every means of enforcing immigration laws. “Border security has also proven to be environmentally irresponsible on many levels,” according to coalition. Likewise, “the electronic employment verification program [to check the immigration status of prospective employees] has proven detrimental to migrants, employers, and citizen employees.”
The PCUSA-endorsed coalition charges that “collaboration between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police … jeopardizes community safety.” It urges federal agencies “to consistently refuse to collaborate in the deportation” of illegal immigrants identified by local police. The coalition asks federal officials to “utilize prosecutorial discretion” in refusing to bring charges against illegal immigrants. The coalition advises the Obama administration “to expedite the release of individuals [detained illegal immigrants] who pose no risk to the community.”
The interfaith coalition advocates “reducing funding for immigration detention, Secure Communities [cooperation between federal and local authorities], the employment verification program as it currently stands, and similar enforcement programs.” It would “redirect those resources to spending for welcoming initiatives” and other “direct services for immigrants.”
These positions are closely in line with resolutions adopted by recent PCUSA General Assemblies. For example, the 2012 assembly sought “to expedite the release of individuals who pose no risk to the community.” It “urge[d]the administration to end policies such as Secure Communities and 287g programs that lack oversight and transparency and have led to racial profiling and have undermined the stability of communities and their trust of law enforcement agencies.” The assembly also opposed “mandatory participation in the E-verify system.”
Presbyterian Panel surveys, however, suggest that PCUSA members have mixed views on immigration issues. An August 2011 survey showed that 57 percent of members “would approve of the federal government creating a way to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants who first came to the United States as children.” (The survey did not ask about those who arrived as adults.)
On the other hand 65 percent of PCUSA members favored “encouraging state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws.” The survey reported that 54 percent endorsed “punishing businesses that employ undocumented immigrants.” From 57 to 65 percent of members agreed that illegal immigration contributes to the “high cost of public schools,” “disrespect for the law,” and “low wages.” Almost half said illegal immigration was responsible for increases in violent crime and unemployment. Whether or not these perceptions are accurate, they are in tension with the pro-immigration advocacy being promoted by the General Assembly and its agencies.
Presbyterian and other pro-immigration advocates believe that the political winds are now blowing in their favor. President Obama, whose re-election was boosted by strong support from Hispanic voters, has made liberalized immigration a top priority as he begins his second term. PCUSA officials are also in step with Obama on another of his top priorities, a push to tighten gun regulations. And they have already taken the President’s side in disputes with House Republicans over how to address government deficits and debts.