ELCA NEWS SERVICE
January 30, 2012
ELCA leaders' effort to protect families pays off
CHICAGO (ELCA) - Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) believe progress has been made with a recent policy change that would keep some families living in the United States, without legal residency, to remain here while applying for legal status -- a step intended to keeping families together.
Such "policies have significant human consequences that affect the lives and well-being of our neighbors," said the Rev. H. Julian Gordy, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Synod, Atlanta, and chair of the ELCA Immigration Ready Bench.
Before the policy change, people living in the U.S. undocumented who return to their country of origin to apply for legal U.S. residency or green card face years of separation from their family.The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the new regulation Jan. 6. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the proposed change will only permit the applicant to apply for a waiver of the "unlawful presence" bar while still in the United States. They must still, by law, leave the United States for immigrant processing. The proposed change, expected to take effect later in 2012, is designed to make the wait outside the country shorter.
"There are many people who were brought to the United States without documents as children. They've grown up here, gone to school, landed a job, paid taxes, married and had children. They are Americans in every way except for place of birth. Having to go back to their country of origin and apply for residency could take years, posing hardship to their families and communities," Gordy said.
Although the policy change is considered a step in the right direction in keeping families together, ELCA leaders still believe a complete federal overhaul of the U.S. immigration system is needed.
"What we really need in this country is comprehensive immigration reform," Gordy said.
Along with other ELCA members and synod bishops, Gordy advocated for the policy change in Washington, D.C., this past fall. He also helped initiate a letter to members of Congress and President Barack Obama to express concern over new state immigration laws. Nearly 60 of the 65 synod bishops of the ELCA endorsed the letter in November 2011, which said that federal reform should restore trust in communities and include:
+ An earned pathway to lawful permanent residency and eventual U.S. citizenship for immigrants and their families who learn English and pay back taxes.
+ Expeditious reunification of families and protection against separating families.
+ Expansion of legal avenues for workers to allow immigrants to migrate to the United States in a safe and legal manner.
+ Decreased use of immigration detention, improvement in detention conditions with increased access to medical assistance, pastoral care and legal council and the increased use of community-based programs that assist immigrants who do need to be incarcerated.
+ Improved border policies that treat all individuals with respect and allow the U.S. government to focus on individuals involved in the trafficking of people, drugs, weapons or other dangerous people seeking entry.
+ Increased programs and resources to help immigrants participate fully in U.S. social and civic life.
The Nov. 30 meetings with Congress and the White House were organized by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the United States' leading agencies in welcoming and advocating for refugees and immigrants. Based in Baltimore, it works on behalf of the ELCA, The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
"We wanted to underscore the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the ELCA's concern about the broken immigration system, and to move forward with ways to help and keep families and communities intact," said Eric Sigmon, director for advocacy at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
"This Congress has been unable to agree upon fair and humane immigration reform legislation," said Sigmon. The ELCA, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and other groups have worked with the Obama administration in the past year "to make good policy changes that help families (and) do not necessarily require Congress to pass new laws. The administration can make decisions given the authority provided," he said.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, who serves on Obama's advisory council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also wrote Congress and the president this past November, calling for immigration reform and support for the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) -- legislation that would provide a path for citizenship for undocumented high school graduates.
The 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the chief legislative authority of this church, called on its leaders to support comprehensive U.S. immigration reform and the DREAM Act.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@ELCA.org
Living Lutheran: http://www.livinglutheran.com