ELCA NEWS SERVICE
August 27, 2012
ELCA leaders hopeful about citizenship for undocumented youth
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- As thousands of young people are now seeking legal temporary residency in the United States, under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are hopeful about this first step toward citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth.
"This executive action is a good move in the right direction," according to the Rev. H. Julian Gordy, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Synod based in Atlanta. "However, we will continue to work to see the DREAM Act made law so that young people, who are Americans in every way except place of birth, might have access to citizenship."
Under a resolution approved by the 2011 Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA, in partnership with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, has advocated for comprehensive federal immigration reform and support of the DREAM Act -- legislation that would provide a path for citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth.
As of Aug. 15, the deportation of undocumented immigrant youth has come to a temporary halt and work permits may be granted to youth if they have arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and are younger than 30, do not have a criminal record, lived in the United States continuously for at least five years and have some educational achievement or military service, among other criteria.
The Rev. Ray Tiemann, bishop of the ELCA Southwestern Texas Synod based in Seguin, Texas, has offered to provide funding for youth in the synod to pay the filing fee to enroll in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process.
"Several of our congregational ministries in the ELCA Southwestern Texas Synod were excited about the Deferred Action decision," said Tiemann. "We are working with them through our director for evangelical mission, Pastor Jose Garcia, as they determine viable candidates, and we will provide some gifts through designated funds toward the application fee. This is one small step to help our youth remain active in our ministries and contribute to our society, and we are happy to support them."
At Mission Luterana Agua Viva in El Cenizo, an ELCA congregation under development in Laredo, Texas, the Rev. Mariana Mendez said there are 10 youth at Agua Viva that are moving toward applying.
"This would be a whole new beginning for me. I will be somebody in a world where I'm considered nobody," said one youth at Agua Viva, who was invited by Mendez to share what acceptance in the process might mean to her.
And elsewhere in the country, ELCA congregations and synods are looking for ways to aid their undocumented youth and their families through the process.
"This is an opportunity for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to be who we already are -- an evangelical church with an eye for justice," said the Rev. Ruben Duran, director for starting new congregations at ELCA churchwide ministries.
"The inaugural processing of deferred action is a step towards the real solution for America -- comprehensive immigration reform," said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Based in Baltimore, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is one of the nation's leaders in welcoming and advocating for refugees and immigrants, working on behalf of the ELCA.
Many ELCA leaders, however, were disappointed when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order that solidifies the ineligibility of undocumented people for state or local public benefits, like drivers' licenses.
The Rev. Stephen S. Talmage, bishop of the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod based in Phoenix, Ariz., was disheartened by the governor's opposition to the process.
"The response of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to work in opposition of the president's two-year program by denying the opportunity of qualified program participants to receive a driver's license continues the volleying between attempts at partial federal fixes and state leaders' defensive maneuvering," said Talmage.
"The victims of this political match are children and young adults, most of whom have only known the United States as home. The call to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform over-and-against piecemeal actions continues to be needed," he said.
ELCA congregations and Lutheran social ministry organizations provide critical services to migrant populations, spread the word of welcome and advocate for fair and humane immigration reform.
- - -
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