Archbishop John Nienstedt joined other Christian faith leaders on the plaza of the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis June 26 to urge Minnesota’s congressional representatives to support immigration reform that provides a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, upholds human dignity, promotes family unity and secures borders.
Reform is needed because the nation’s current immigration system has failed on many levels, Archbishop Nienstedt said.
“It is inconsistent, ineffective, and it does not promote the common good,” he said. “Therefore we, together with our evangelical brothers and sisters, stand today from across communities and denominations to reiterate our support for comprehensive immigration reform that brings millions of people out of the shadows, reunites them with their families and puts them on a path to citizenship.”
“Each day in our parishes, our social service programs, hospitals and schools, we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system,” he said. “Families are separated, workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings are dying in deserts. Without positive change to our immigration laws, we cannot be of assistance to these, our brothers and sisters.”
Minnesota’s Catholic bishops and a group of evangelical pastors issued an open letter to the state’s congressional delegation as the U.S. Senate was debating S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, spoke in support of the measure earlier this month. The bill faces an uphill climb for support in the House.
The letter is signed by more than 100 Christian clergy, including bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches. The signers represent more than 2 million Minnesota Christians, said Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota, a regional network of evangelical churches and ministries from nine denominations.
He encouraged people to download the letter and send it to their representatives in Congress. The letter can be accessed on the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s website.
Respecting human dignity
The letter recognizes the right of nations to secure their borders and make decisions about the identity and number of immigrants allowed into their country. But it also acknowledges the current system’s failures.
“The painful experiences we have witnessed firsthand as we have ministered to [immigrants] and served with them tell us our current immigration system fails to reflect our nation’s commitment to the value of human dignity and protecting family unity,” Nelson said.
Father Kevin Kenney, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul and the archdiocese’s vicar for Latinos, has seen firsthand the pain caused by the current immigration system, particularly for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“Thinking back to a recent visit to the immigration holding center in Bloomington,” he said, “I can still hear the cry of a mother whose 18-year-old son was deported that morning, knowing that her son did not speak Spanish because he had been brought to the United States as an infant and now was being sent to a border town as a lamb among wolves.”
“Over the past years, more families have been torn apart by this broken immigration system as fathers, brothers, mothers and children are being deported back to their countries for as little as a broken taillight on their car,” Father Kenney said.
“Our immigrant families are open to working and want to work, so why not allow them to help grow our economy in a just and a safe way?” he said. “Our immigrant families are family-centered and have great faith and values. Their love for the Church and life is refreshing and renewing. We need to keep our immigrant families together.”
Father Joseph Williams, pastor of St. Stephen in Minneapolis, attended the press conference and said he understands the difficulties many immigrants face.
“We’ve been content as a society too long to let these people serve us,” said Father Williams, who estimates that Latinos make up about 80 to 90 percent of St. Stephen’s congregation. “They cook our meals, clean our hotels . . . and we’re not recognizing them as our brothers and sisters. That has to end.”
Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said parishes and local communities can play a significant role in getting meaningful reform passed by educating others about the importance of the issue, dispelling myths that persist about immigrants and reform measures, and encouraging people to contact their lawmakers right away.
“We recognize that finding solutions to the plight of immigrants today will sometimes necessitate the overcoming of boundaries of the heart, not just of the land,” Archbishop Nienstedt said.
“Every immigrant is a person — a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, he said. “Each of those persons possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by all. As Christians, we have a responsibility to welcome the stranger out of charity and respect. Supporting legislation that helps repair our broken immigration system is part of this responsibility as believers in Jesus Christ.”