The Episcopal Church historically supported immigration reform. Just as they are passionate about other controversial issues of the day, they are passionate about immigration reform and at the 77th General Convention, held last month, the Church further strengthen its stance by passing Resolution D059 “Halt Unjust Immigration Reform,” D011 “Reform Unequal Immigration Law,” and D067, which supports the DREAM Act.
D059 calls for a halt to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities Program, which was intended as a way for federal officials to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records.
“[Instead] we are deporting anyone in violation of immigration laws, not just criminals,” said Smith in an earlier interview with ENS. He knows of cases where an undocumented immigrant was pulled over for a broken tail light, taken into custody and, despite the absence of a criminal record, deported, he said.
According to Resolution D059, ICE’s Secure Community Program “…leads to lengthy detention at the public expense of unrepresented immigrants who have no serious charges pending against them, and effectively discourages victims of various crimes, such as domestic violence, from reporting those crimes.”
“They say that it is to protect communities,” said the Rev. Paula Jackson, rector of the Church of Our Savior in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the resolution’s proposer. “It tears apart communities.”
Recently, an unmarried couple wanted their three children baptized, but the Catholic Church turned them away. Jackson baptized their children, but what should have been a happy occasion turned into sorrow, because the father ended up deported back to Guatemala.
According to the Episcopal News Service (ENS), more than 46,000 parents were deported, leaving theirU. S.children behind. After deporting the parents, the U. S. placed more than 5000 children in foster homes, without even consulting their parents. Accordingly, the State could have placed some of the 5000 children with family or close family friends, but they did not.
ENS stated that this information is “according to a Aug. 1 Episcopal Public Policy Network Action Alert quoting federal data obtained by racial justice think tank, the Applied Research Center, through a Freedom of Information request.”
Jackson served at 22 years at Our Saviour parish and her parish became an asylum for immigrants.
During a post-convention telephone interview, Jackson described the population Our Savior serves and explained that she once accompanied an illiterate, indigenous woman who along with her three children lost an appeal for asylum back to Guatemala, navigating the journey through big city airports, the U.S. Embassy and back to her remote village.
“The immigrants that come to our church are a select group – much more recent immigrants –and the ones who come to Church of Our Savior tend to be the indigenous people whose second language is Spanish, their first language is an indigenous language, Mam, a Mayan language, and most were second class citizens where they came from,” said Jackson. “They have come from not just poverty; poverty is sort of like, take that for granted, though some are highly educated and can’t make living. They are fleeing brutal oppression and violence.”
This disparity also affects same-sex couples. Unlike heterosexual couples, one cannot sponsor the other when they are a same-sex couple, when it comes to immigration. This led Sarah Lawton, a deputy fromCaliforniaand vice chair of the Standing Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy, to propose D011.
Lawton’s husband is a naturalized citizen, but if he were not, she could sponsor him, but same-sex couples do not receive this option.
The resolution encourages legislation to allow same-gender couples the same rights as opposite-gender couples when it comes to a U.S. citizen’s or lawful permanent resident’s ability to sponsor his or her partner in the immigration process.
Lawton explained in a telephone interview with ENS that her parish, St. John the Evangelist in San Francisco’s Mission District, where Smith serves, has lost members, many to Canada, which allows same-gender sponsorship.
D067 supports the DREAM Act legislation. This act, which Obama announced in June, gives young people, who are undocumented, a path to citizenship, as well as encourages scholarships for DREAMers.
The DREAM Act, bipartisan legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for people who arrived in the United States as minors, is stalled in Congress. On June 15, President Barack Obama, who has encouraged its passage and said he would sign it, announced the deferred-action plan.
If not for the Immigration Reform Act of 1986, Ariana Gonzalez-Bonillas of the Diocese of Arizona said she could not attend the 2012 convention, because at one time her father was an undocumented immigrant. The Episcopal Church married her parents and her father obtained his citizenship a week before she was born, two years later. According to her, it was because of the Reform Act of 1986 that her family is here today and in return, she was able to attend July's General Convention.
“My father was not born here. He was born in Mexico City to a poor family, and they moved to California when he was 7, and he stayed there undocumented for the next 10 years,” she testified during a July 9 National and International Affairs Committee meeting. “He lived in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, and he was surrounded by other undocumented people. In high school he considered going into the military, seeking residency and eventually citizenship, even though he was well on his way to become valedictorian. He could go to any school he wanted if only he was documented.”
The 1986 law allowed her father to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Two years later, he met Gonzalez-Bonillas’s mother, who was studying at nearby Wellesley College.
“They were married by an Episcopal priest when she graduated,” she said. “Two years after that, he became a U.S. citizen one week before I was born. When I was 6 months old, I was baptized into the Episcopal Church. I could say it was because of the amnesty that allowed my father to go to college that I stand before you today, and it is why I want to help other undocumented youth to go to college, to have an amazing education, to eventually gain citizenship along with a better life and to know that we support them wholeheartedly.”
On August 15, at Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco, clergy, community members, and young immigrants gathered to celebrate the reprieve from deporting undocumented young immigrants, most of whom were brought over by their parents at an early age. Some of their parents became documented citizens, while, for some reason, the children did not.
This group of people gathered at Grace, to urge California Governor Jerry Brown to sign the TRUST Act, which extends protection to some community members.
Diego and Jose Hernandez, 18-year-old twins and high school seniors who came to the United States with their parents from Mexico when they were 7, for example, spoke at a press conference at the cathedral celebration about how they are eligible for the two-year temporary reprieve, but their parents are not.
The twins were among thousands of young immigrants who stood line Aug. 15 to take advantage of President Barack Obama’s “deferred-action plan,” a program by which “… eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.”
Thus, Episcopalians also support immigrant parents, as well as immigrant children. Both parents and children need the various acts in which to become citizens as a family, without the children’s parents deported, leaving them to fend for themselves.
Fr. Richard Smith, associate priest at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, delivered the prepared opening remarks on behalf of California Bishop Marc Andrus. Over 50 people gathered, including major media, gathered at the church to hear the remarks concerning the TRUST Act.
“This has not been an easy road for you, coming forward time and again to speak the truth and tell your stories. Sometimes it has been risky, but you have been brave, and you did it. We are so proud of you, and we are proud to continue standing with you until together we have achieved justice for all of your families as well,” said Smith. He is a clergy leader with the San Francisco Organizing Project, a grassroots community network representing more than 40,000 families.
“A word about the TRUST Act that is about to arrive on Governor Brown’s desk: We know that the overwhelming majority of immigrants in our churches and communities are law-abiding people working hard to support their families,” he continued. “They make enormous contributions to our economy, our society, our culture and, yes, our own lives of faith.”
“And that is why this diocese and our bishop today call upon Governor Brown to sign the TRUST Act when it arrives on his desk,” Smith concluded.
According to Lawton, resolutions such as these, rally support for various immigration reforms. Katie Conway, the Episcopal Church’s immigration and refugee policy analyst, these resolutions “passed at General Convention give my work in Washington both its focus and its legitimacy.”
“It is very compelling for administration staff or members of Congress to see how an immigration resolution proposed by a diocese in Ohio, in one district, can then aid advocacy across the country in California or New Jersey or Arizona, in other dioceses and other districts.”
“These resolutions offer an opportunity to educate lawmakers about these issues through the work and passion of Episcopalians and ensure that the Episcopal voice remains strong and clear as we continue to push for humane and just immigration policies.”