In recent months, Muslim, SikhSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob... and Hindu immigrants have organized to make their presence known and to vocalize their faith commitments to American ideals at stake in the national immigration reform debates. They have added poignant personal stories, diverse religious opinions, and budding political voices to the debate, offering a view of America seldom spotlighted. The unique combination of experiences and faith commitments these first, second, and third generation immigrants bring to the public square both challenges and supports America’s national identity at a fundamental level.
As religious minorities grow in numbers with immigration, as generations settle in, and as new religious and cultural centers begin to develop critical massMass is a term used in the Roman Catholic Church for the ritual that culminates in the celebration of the Eucharist, the central rite of sharing the consecrated bread and wine in the church community., religious immigrant communities are gaining footholds in civic life. These communities are being changed by what the American political process demands of them to have their voices heard. And they in turn are influencing how America sees its own ethics, politics, and religious commitments.
The most pressing debate on immigration currently centers on attempts to combine drastically different legislation between the House and Senate concerning 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Whatever is decided this year will likely set a precedent for further immigration legislation for years to come.
Most of the activism of immigrant communities has involved protesting the enforcement measures of the House bill, which would not provide “a pathway to citizenship” like the Senate bill, but would increase border patrol and require local and state police across the nation to report illegal immigrants to immigration authorities as part of their everyday police work.
In general, immigrants who have begun to speak out are those who support a legal path to citizenship for undocumented residents. However, some immigrants, often those who entered the country legally and have benefited from less job competition, defend strict immigration controls.
Legislation and RalliesUpcoming negotiations in the House and Senate over a compromise bill have high stakes for politicians seeking re-election. While both political parties are divided, the Senate seeks to support only a bill that offers an eventual path to citizenship, and many in the House flatly refuse to back anything remotely connected to what they call “amnesty.” (1)
The negotiations come after three months of rallies that drew people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, legal statuses, and religious affiliations. One of the first rallies, a Chicago pro-immigration rally on March 10, 2006, attracted 1,000 people to the streets according to police estimates. At the time, it was one of the largest pro-immigration rallies in U.S. history. (2) In April, an ecumenical rally advocating for humane reform drew more than 500,000 people to Washington D.C., according to organizer estimates. It was one of 130 immigration events that weekend. (3)
May 1st, traditionally a day commemorated in honor of labor rights, drew hundreds of thousands of people to the streets in more than 120 U.S. cities. (4) For example, in Los Angeles rallies drew more than 1 million people, according to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a civil rights organization that works toward the integration of IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to... into American pluralism and civic life. (5)
Among the more local grassroots affairs, in early June the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), an organization that promotes Muslim involvement in American political campaigns, teamed up with the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), an organization that promotes the political freedom and representation of Hispanics in America. In California, they drew publicity to civil rights, immigration, and local campaign issues by driving a caravan of forty cars, a bus, a limousine, and a Hummer through the streets of Stockton, Tracy, Manteca, and Lodi to end up with a rally in Atherton Park. The Muslim-Mexican-American team had an equal number of participants from each group. (6)
On July 12, the day Congress was set to vote on the immigration legislation, the EpiscopalEpiscopal refers to any church in which authority is vested in a bishop (Greek episkopos). More particularly it refers to the Episcopal Church in America, which developed from the Church of England after the American Revolution. ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... held a conference and advocacy day entitled “Faith and Migration,” which drew together a wide variety of people from religious backgrounds to pressure Congress toward “humane” reform. The conference attempted to balance out what some see as a distorted view of the immigration debate, one which predominately focuses on enforcement and punishment. Among those in attendance was Richard Land, President of the Southern BaptistThe Baptist tradition includes a variety of Christian churches which trace their beginnings to the Anabaptist reform movement that rejected infant baptism insisting on the importance of baptizing only those who are able to profess the faith as believers. Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, someone whose conservative theology generally prohibits him from participating in most ecumenical activism. (7) This issue, for most mainlines, is categorized as fairly “middle of the road.”
Rallies and mass efforts to lobby Congress are continuing throughout the summer with a large Washington D.C. rally planned for September 16th, partly organized through the Muslim American Society (MAS), an organization which seeks to present the message of Islam to non-Muslims, foster unity among Muslims, and promote Islamic human values of equality and justice in the greater society. (8)
Muslims Join Immigration Activism, Seeing Reform as a Civil Rights Issue
Largely called a “Latino issue” in the mainstream press, Muslims have involved themselves publicly in the immigration debate at national, regional and local levels. Some Muslims feel a pressing political need to push back against attempts to bolster legislation like the Patriot Act which legalizes civil rights infringements such as racial profiling, increased deportations, and the denial of visas to certain populations. Similarly, leaders call the legislation of House bill HR 4437 “inhumane” in its crackdown on illegal immigration, because it upgrades “unlawful presence” from a minor criminal offense to a felony, and imposes criminal penalties for anyone who aids illegal immigrants in any way, knowingly or unknowingly.
Large-scale National and Regional Muslim Activism
National councils and organizations such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Islamic civil rights group in the United States, particularly the California and Chicago branches, are rallying behind the issue for a variety of reasons.
Chicago’s Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), a regional council representing Greater Chicago’s 400,000 Muslims, has been among the most vocal regional councils in encouraging its members to attend the pro-immigration rallies and speak out. It brought students from the local Islamic schools to the May rally. (9-11) The MosqueMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, a faith-based coalition, along with CIOGC, CAIR-Chicago, and other Islamic groups, rallied 800 Muslims to attend the May rally on “short-notice” of only two announcements after Friday prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not., said the assistant director of the Mosque Foundation Kifah Mustapha, an imamImam means “leader,” particularly the person who leads the daily ritual prayer or, more broadly, to the one who serves as a leader of the community because of his religious learning. In Shi’i Islam, it refers to one of a succession of direct descend... at the Foundation. “The response is good and trust is there also.” He said the Muslim turnout was particularly visible because “we had to conduct a prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. during the time, there in the middle [of everything].” (12)
Mustapha said Muslims came out to protest the House bill because “it does not reflect the values that make this country unique,” those connected with the Constitution such as liberty, justice and equality. The Mosque Foundation belongs to United Power for Justice, a Chicago-based umbrella organization of 30-40 faith-based groups that help mobilize mass participation on political issues as well as help create interfaith understanding by hosting regular “get to know your neighbor” events. “To keep this uniqueness you need to have harmony among people,” Mustapha said. Immigration is one component of an ongoing commitment of Chicago-area Muslims to public life. The Foundation gets involved “Whenever we feel there is a value that makes this country unique and someone tries to take it away.” He wants to maintain the United States as a “MeccaMakkah (also spelled Mecca) is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, the hub of the caravan trade in the Arabian Peninsula, and the site of the holy Ka’bah. After receiving the first revelations of the Qur’an on a mountain outside Makkah, Muhammad d... of opportunities.” (13)
Muslims will be subjected to racial profiling and greater punishment under the guise of searching out undocumented workers, according to Abdul Malik Mujahid of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. Mujahid advocates for Muslims to reach out to the Latino community and African Americans, who are often in competition with Latinos for jobs. (14)
Changing Political Scene for Muslim Activism
Organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council see Muslim participation in the rallies as a new level of participation in American civil society. “Mobilizing local Muslim communities around the issue of immigration has brought Muslim Americans into the fold of activism with people from diverse racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds around common issues of concern,” published MPAC in its announcement about the rallies. The Council cites Islam’s message of peace, compassion, and concern for social justice as a reason for Muslims to be involved. (15)
Developing Muslim Activism through Youth
Madhi Bray, Executive Director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said in an interview that rallying Muslim social action around the immigration issue has been very difficult. While issues of due process were important in the Muslim community even before 9/11, Bray sees immigration as gaining ground in importance. “The younger generation is responding a little bit better,” Bray said. He also said he hopes that involvement will snowball. MAS, along with others, is organizing for a major rally in Washington D.C. for September 16 and Bray hopes that 20,000 to 30,000 people will march. (16)
Reasons for Lack of Muslim Political Involvement
Some sectors of the Muslim population and other groups may be less willing to get involved. While Muslims may attend the rallies, many still hesitate to register to vote, either because of apprehensions about getting involved with a non-Muslim political system, because they lack education and procedural knowledge of the American political system, or because their country of origin did not encourage political participation, according to Zahid Bukhari, Director of the Pew Foundation’s project at Georgetown University. (17) Or they may too busy securing stable economic footing for their families.
American Islam, like any religion heavily influenced by immigration, must also deal with internal diversity of opinion, culture, and ritual practice since its adherents immigrated from diverse countries around the world. This ongoing discussion of what American Islam looks like in its legal proceedings, practices, and beliefs may have the effect on keeping the energy of Muslim Americans internally focused until the community as a whole is more established.
Latino Muslims Offer Unique Blend of Identities, Activism
One group that has the potential to be politically active in a particularly unique way is the growing population of American Latino Muslims. According to the Islamic Society of North AmericaThe Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was established in 1982 to serve as an umbrella organization for Sunni Muslim student and professional groups across the country. ISNA, with national headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana, sponsors national and re..., there are around 40,000 Latino Muslims in the United States. Each year six percent of the 20,000 Muslim conversions in the United States are Latinos, according to a Council on American-Islamic Relations report. (18)
The Daily Southtown reported that the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois challenged stereotypesStereotyping is the ascription of generalized characteristics to a whole group of people, thus describing individuals by the characterization, usually a caricature, of the whole. with its vocal population of Latino Muslims joining the May 1st rally. The mosque’s imam, Sheik Jamal Said, encouraged mosque attendees to participate. (19) Latino Muslims are more likely to become involved through urban organizations, said Mustafa, whereas the Foundation is located in the suburbs, highlighting a common demographic challenge as mosquesMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... are not often urban. The Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO) is made up of a small handful of Latino converts to IslamNew Muslims are those who have recently embraced Islam. Some Muslims do not speak of “converts” to Islam, since the language of “conversion” carries negative and coercive connotations and because of the belief that all people are ‘born Muslim’... that came together to encourage the promotion of Islam in the Latino community. Activist and writer Yahsmin M.B. BoBo records the budding efforts of the Latino Muslim community in the LADO newsletter writing that African American, Arab and Latino groups all experience targeted discrimination and socioeconomic injustice in the United States and thus have common experiences to bond them together when they meet at the mosque. Bobo writes that many Latino Muslims are reluctant to get involved in broader Muslim activism. (20)
Sabiha Khan, communications director for CAIR-Southern California, said that because most Latino Muslims are relatively new to the religion, they are be more likely to spend their time trying to learn Islam rather than use their nascent identity to affect political change and build bridges. She predicts Muslim activism to have a more Latino-influenced face in five to ten years. (21)
Xenophobia Makes Immigration a Common Cause
While organizations like MPAC and CAIR encourage their communities to vote and engage in mainstream political participation, protection and promotion of minority rights remains their primary niche because of their limited capacity and resources. Groups like CAIR are likely to lend their weight to events organized by Latino groups rather than consider immigration a target issue for their organization. Immigration reform has been added to the list of periodic CAIR workshop subjects that include citizenship delays and civic duty but otherwise receives less focus than other issues. (22)
However, many Muslim groups advocate involvement in the immigration debate as an issue of “the future of our country and the direction it is going for all Americans,” Khan said. “As Americans we think it is important.” She cites religious obligations to treat people humanely as a reason to be involved, but also sees participation in immigration issues as a way to fight back against broad strokes of xenophobia that affect Latinos and Muslims alike. (23)
Bray believes both minority groups suffer from being treated as “others” in an overall political environment of fear. He sees Latinos and Muslims both as scapegoats of the broader society, directly intimidated and harassed by entities like Homeland Security and naturalization officials.
Changing Participation Structures Despite Intimidation
Government community relations with the Muslim community have often been “through the back door,” Bray said, creating political intimidation that makes it hard for Muslims to publicly assert their rights.
Immigration rights are one set in a series of civil rights struggles for the Muslim community. One of MAS’s long-term goals is continuing civics education for Muslims and imamsImam means “leader,” particularly the person who leads the daily ritual prayer or, more broadly, to the one who serves as a leader of the community because of his religious learning. In Shi’i Islam, it refers to one of a succession of direct descend... (often trained abroad) on “what can be transformational in America” in terms of social protest and participating in elections.
In the near future Bray sees structural leadership paradigms in the local Muslim communities, traditionally four or five male business leaders, giving way to more broad-based participation in mosque leadership, influencing and influenced by increasing mainstream political participation. (24) Increased racism and xenophobia after 9/11 has affected everyone regardless of socioeconomic status, Bray said, requiring Muslims to cease hiding behind traditional leadership structures and take grassroots responsibility for combating their own persecution.
Supporting Immigration through Naturalization LitigationCAIR Chicago, along with other Islamic organizations in the area, recently brought forward over 100 Muslim Americans whose citizenship applications had not been processed nor responded to within the legal time frame. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS) representatives who met with the applicants at the CAIR meeting suggested the submission of a follow-up application and said they would look into the cases. At the national level, CAIR is involved in a lawsuit involving over 14 men who suspect that their applications for citizenship have been unreasonably delayed or silenced because of their Arab or Muslim status. (25)
MAS and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), a civil rights and education organization, are also involved in organizing people in their communities who have experienced naturalization delays to connect them with immigration attorneys in independent nationwide legal campaigns. Bray said he believes litigation has not been used by Muslim Americans as much as other social change tools such as advocacy or education, but naturalization litigation may change that. (27)
SikhsSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob... Join In, See Anti-Immigration Views as Discrimination
The Sikh Coalition, an organization that encourages civic involvement in the Sikh community and education about SikhismSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob... in the non-Sikh community, fears that the House bill would require local police to become immigration agents. This would increase the likelihood that illegal immigrants would be targets of discrimination and human rights violations because they would avoid local police for fear that in the process of being helped their illegal status would be reported to federal authorities. The Coalition cites two high-profile cases of the impact of deportation enforcement in an article on its Web site, highlighting the particular vulnerability of Sikh taxi drivers who mix with strangers on a daily basis, traveling alone with their passengers to potentially isolated locations. (28)
The article cautions that tens of thousands of Sikhs could potentially be impacted by immigration reform and its ability to break up families. (29) Most of the undocumented Sikh community arrived in the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s and have long-established communities and often American-born children, SinghUpon initiation into the Khalsa, Sikh men assume the name Singh, “Lion.” said. Sikh Coalition Legal Director Amardeep Singh decided that profiling real life worst-case scenarios would be most likely to get people’s attention. “Folks understand stuff when they hear how things work in real life,” Singh said. “It’s tough to motivate people about something that hasn’t happened yet.” Since most of the Sikh community is not connected to the Internet, the Coalition ran the article in the seven national Punjabi newspapers distributed for free in Sikh houses of worship. (30)
The Sikh Coalition has been the most vocal Sikh civil rights organization thus far to prominently organize on the issue, although the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) has organized appeals to protest naturalization paperwork delays. (31) United Sikhs, a New York-based branch of an international organization designed to promote the empowerment of minority communities, has begun sponsoring legal clinics to offer advice on naturalization applications and spread awareness of the rights of undocumented individuals. (32)
Singh said that Sikh community activism on the immigration issue has not been substantial and that limited resources make that hard to change. “It takes time and we are trying to build a culture [of political activism],” Singh said, “but it’s going to affect a lot of people,” especially because of the likelihood that men with beards and turbansSikh men wear a turban and Sikh women wear a long head scarf known as a chunni in fulfillment of one of the basic vows taken when joining the Khalsa (the order of committed Sikhs)—to leave the hair uncut as a sign of complete dedication to God. This is ... will be asked for immigration papers over other Anglo-Americans. He thinks awareness is building and it will increase participation in the future. (33)
South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow
The Sikh Coalition’s involvement in the immigration debates is facilitated through South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT). (34) The SAALT Web site considers itself an “immigrant” and “new citizen” organization, citing a statistic that two-thirds of South Asians in the United States today are immigrants and of the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States, two million are Asian. (35) Among its other civic engagement projects, SAALT currently devotes one-quarter of its home page to the immigration issue, encouraging South Asian Americans to attend rallies, write congress people, and otherwise get involved. (36)
It has published a 10-page brochure on how community members and South Asian organizations can frame and contribute to the immigration debate, highlighting such things as the importance of promoting a legal path to citizenship and the significant differences between the House and Senate bills. (37) Broadly, SAALT encourages volunteerism and civic engagement, and since 9/11, a significant portion of its capacity has been spent documenting and promoting awareness of hate crimes in the South Asian American community. (38)
Hindu Americans Offer
The Hindu American Foundation, an organization that promotes general human rights and Hindu American participation in public life, signed the most prominent interfaith declaration on immigration reform, called the “Interfaith Statement in Support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” after receiving information about it through an email list-serve. No particular organization is in charge of the list-serve, although it is used for interfaith organizing, said Swaminathan Venkataraman, a member of HAF’s executive council. “Whenever our issues agree, we become a part of it [the organizing action],” Venkataraman said. The HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is HAF’s closest faith-based affiliate connected to immigration policy. HIAS keeps HAF regularly informed. (39)
Venkataraman said the Hindu American community is not directly affected by immigration reform, particularly that of undocumented workers, because community members immigrate legally through workers’ visas. However, they urge for “humane” immigration reform because they consider it a humanitarian issue. HAF often speaks out on the need to organize around humanitarian issues, such as earthquake relief, regardless of whether the issue affects Hindus. (40)
“In the future there needs to be a reduction in illegal immigration,” Venkataraman said, but he said he does not believe that massive deportation of current residents is the answer to the United States’ immigration problem. The Hindu community is particularly concerned about the potential criminalization of aid and charity workers who give assistance to those in need without checking legal status. (41)
HAF is also worried about making sure asylum rights are maintained regardless of the outcome of the illegal immigration debate. “We’ve had refugees, Hindus, from Afghanistan in the past few years,” who need asylum since much of the country remains unstable and religious minorities are at risk of persecution outside of the capital city, Venkataraman said. HAF signed an addendum to the interfaith declaration, asking faith-groups to also support legislation such as the “Secure and Safe Dentention and Asylum Act,” which safeguards asylum seekers from unecessary detention or expedition home to their prosectutors. (42)
Most Jewish Groups See Anti-Immigration Legislation as Discrimination
While many Jewish groups participate in interfaith declarations on immigration reform for humanitarian reasons, they also say they have particular reasons for becoming involved in the immigration debate. Many Jewish organizations, like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the U.S., find anti-SemitismAnti-Semitism means literally “opposed to Semites” although it has always referred specifically to Jews. Modern anti-Semitism arose in Europe toward the end of the 19th century, coalescing social, racial, and religious theories that denigrated the Jew... a motivating factor for supporting other minorities who are being called “un-American,” like Jews once were and still are today. (43)
Fifteen national and many local Jewish organizations drafted and signed “A Jewish Vision For the Future of American Immigration and Refugee Policy,” a vision which focuses on support for the vulnerable, on July 5th of 2005. (44) The Anti-Defamation LeagueThe Anti-Defamation League is a Jewish organization founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry. Its mission is “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, to secure justice and fa..., a Jewish-founded organization, recently completed a report on hate crimes against Hispanic immigrants of all legal statuses. (45)
However, some conservative Jewish groups disagree with their co-religionists. The American Jewish Immigration Policy Institute argues that a path to citizenship for illegal residents is “unfair.” Co-founder Ira Mehlman said he believes that anti-Semitism might spike if immigration is not controlled and reduced. (46)
Interfaith Groups Support Immigration Reform’s Caring for the Vulnerable
Many interfaith groups have come forward to protest the House bill, saying it would greatly affect their ability to offer social services to those in need of food, shelter and services. They also say the spirit of the House bill strongly goes against the ethical injunctions in most major religions to care for the vulnerable and the stranger in the land from a moral and theological standpoint, as well as a practical one in terms of providing social services. Signatories of one interfaith declaration on “fair” immigration reform include minority groups like the Washington Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Sikh DharmaDharma means religion, religious duty, religious teaching. The word dharma comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “to uphold, support, bear,” thus dharma is that order of things which informs the whole world, from the laws of nature to the inner workings ... International, the Bultasa Buddhist TempleBuddhist temples differ considerably from one another depending upon culture and particular school, but most are associated with the residence of the sangha of monks. Theravada temples focus on one or more images of Sakyamuni Buddha. In Mahayana and Vajra... of Chicago, the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, and Women in Islam, Inc. Fifty national and over 100 local faith organizations signed the declaration. (47)
Some interfaith groups have also decided to devote some of their organizing power to helping people register to vote or apply for citizenship, such as Valley Interfaith in Texas. Estela Sosa Garcia, a leader with the group, said that previous citizenship drives in 1989 and 1997 helped more than 20,000 legal residents become U.S. citizens. While this did not directly help undocumented workers, the new drive may work to help undocumented workers obtain legal residency, depending on existing legal pathways and the outcomes of upcoming legislation. (48)
Roman Catholic Advocacy
The most vocal and well-publicized faith community advocating for a legal path to citizenship is the Roman Catholic ChurchThe Roman Catholic Church, often referred to as the Catholic Church, is the largest of the major streams of Christianity. It claims the authority of Christian tradition dating to the time of the apostles. Its representative and interpreter is the Pope, th..., particularly the clergyClergy are the body of ordained men (and in some cases women) who are authorized to perform the priestly, pastoral, or rabbinical duties of the community—as distinct from the laity whom they serve.. As most undocumented immigrants are Latinos, and a majority of Latinos are Roman Catholic, many in the Church feel it is an issue integral to their constituency, particularly in communities along the border. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has been the most vocal, announcing publicly that priestsA priest is the leader of a religious community or congregation, specially trained and often ordained to service, who leads members of the community in the rituals and practice of shared and individual life. Many traditions have forms of priesthood.In the... in his dioceseA diocese is an administrative unit of the Christian Church, presided over by a bishop. are encouraged to continue helping and serving immigrants regardless of their legal status and regardless of federal law. (49) Not all Catholics are pro-immigration. Many lay Catholics (and ProtestantsProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists...) are less likely to support pro-immigration reform than their religious leaders. (50) Regardless of clerical status, the most religiously committed Christians are more likely to be pro-immigration, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (51)
Protestants Issue Statements Supporting Pathways to Citizenship
Some mainline protestantProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists... denominations operate long-established immigration aid services similar to the Hebrew International Aid Society, such as Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which is run by both the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The appointed leaders of most mainline denominations have issued statements advocating for “just” immigration reform and pathways to citizenship. Many others, as part of their membership in the ecumenical National Council of Churches, an organization which represents 35 denominations and 45 million American Christians, have signed NCC interreligious declarations as well.
The statements have been less focused on civil rights terminology, using strongly worded and direct language about what mainline Christians see as moral mandates in the policy debates. Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, pointed out at the ecumenical conference in July that Christians are “to act redemptively and to reach out to those who are hurting, whether they are legal or not.” (52) Policy concerns are supported by two main Biblical injunctions, an Old TestamentThe Old Testament is the term Christians often use for the body of writings that comprise the Hebrew Bible which Jews call Tanakh. passage which commands the Israelites “not to oppress the alien,” and one in the New TestamentThe New Testament is the collection of a body of writings the early Christian community came to accept as authoritative: the four gospels, the Book of Acts, the letters of Paul, several other letters or epistles, and the Book of Revelation. where JesusJesus is the historical figure considered by Christians to be the Christ, the Messiah, whose life and teachings, death and resurrection give clear evidence of God’s love for humankind. Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE... associates with the vulnerable, saying “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” They feel that to not advocate for humane reform in public policy is for a Christian to turn his or her back on the GospelGospel means “Good News” and refers to the central message of the Christian tradition: the good news of Christ’s life and message of redemption. Gospel refers more specifically to the four books that tell the story of the Christ event and became par....
“Throughout history, politicians have tried to convince themselves that the biblical call to love, the ministryMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam). of hospitality and the Sermon on the Mount are naïve, impractical and irrelevant to our complex world,” said NCC General Secretary Rev. Bob Edgar. “But one cannot-dare not-suspend biblical principles simply to advance a political agenda. It comes from an authority higher than Congress, higher than Immigration and Naturalization Services, higher than the President of the United States, and it cannot be ignored.” (53) In the larger immigration debates, Protestants offer a model of how to articulate the connections among faith, biblical injunctions and public policy.
Many evangelicalThe Greek word euangelion means “good news” and an evangelist is one who proclaims and shares the good news of Christ. Evangelism is the preaching and witnessing to that good news. Evangelicals are Christians who emphasize the personal experience of G... Christians, including some of the largest organizations of the Christian Right, oppose a legal path to citizenship because it “condones law-breaking” and disorder. The Christian Coalition, the largest association of Evangelical Christians in the United States, supports the House bill, although it doubts the bill will become law. (54) Its supporters cite a Christian obligation to obey the laws of the land, which involve curbing and prosecuting illegal immigration. However, other evangelical leaders are vocally split on the issue, not wanting to alienate a constituency of nearly 15 million Hispanic evangelicalsThe Greek word euangelion means “good news” and an evangelist is one who proclaims and shares the good news of Christ. Evangelism is the preaching and witnessing to that good news. Evangelicals are Christians who emphasize the personal experience of G.... (55)
In a related vein, Muslim youth are increasingly considering law school as a way to give their communities a greater voice for fighting immigration discrimination and civil liberties battles. (56) This will likely be necessary as national judges, law enforcement and immigration authorities begin to evaluate and address loopholes under the current immigration system that lead to fraudulent behavior.
A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled in June that immigrants, because of their legal status as non-citizens, could be legally detained and imprisoned indefinitely on the basis of their race, religion or national origin, as long as they would eventually be deported. (57) Some mass deportation campaigns targeting illegal immigrants with criminal records or involved in gang activity have already started across the country, including the week-long “Operation Return to Sender” which led to the arrest of 2,179 undocumented immigrants, half of whom had criminal records. (58)
The Department of Homeland Security has discovered massive fraud in a special visa program that allows American religious groups to sponsor the immigration of foreign religious workers. More than a third of the cases investigated proved to be fraudulent. While the program is mainly used by the Roman Catholic Church, which claims it needs to bring in foreign workers because of a lack of American priests, it is particularly important for other communities as well. The likelihood of fraud was extremely high among Muslim workers from predominately Muslim countries. Individuals or organizations lied about their status as religious institutions and workers often lied about their religious credentials. Any potential restriction on religious worker visas is likely to have a large impact on minority religious communities since most religious leaders are hired from abroad because of their particular religious training. (59)
Developing a Secular and Religious Reform MovementAs Congress continues to seek a compromise between its different proposals on immigration this summer, local governments, grassroots organizations, and individuals are speaking out and taking action. Congress is unlikely to reach a resolution before November’s elections, despite a steady stream of House and Senate meetings on immigration and reports that some influential conservatives are beginning to rethink their positions. (60)
Autumn election campaigns will keep the immigration issue in the foreground of political debate. Grassroots organizations are also likely to conduct voter registration drives with an eye to registering minority residents. (61)
On a local level, some municipalities such as New York, San Diego and Houston are declaring or renewing their declarations as sanctuary cities, municipalities that openly give illegal immigrants social services without reporting them to immigration authorities. While the policies of these cities vary, this independent decision-making would have legal consequences if the House bill passes, requiring local police to report undocumented workers. (62) Most sanctuary cities were set up in the 1980s as churchesThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... collectively helped thousands of Central American refugees flee civil war. Some cities and organizations hotly criticize the concept of a sanctuary city because of it declares itself exempt from national law. (63)
The grassroots minority voice is becoming increasingly articulate and present. It is likely to have a greater impact on the immigration debate and future rallies in the coming months. Immigrants bring cultural as well as religious traditions from their countries of origin, requiring that intra-religious engagement must occur within the community before it can be unified enough to be politically active, holding intra-religious differences in balance.
While it is likely that speculations are overly exaggerated about a new social movement being born of the immigration debates, the voices of immigrants and religious minorities are nonetheless crucial to the ongoing development of civil liberties.
The outcome of congressional legislation will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the economic, civic and social fabric of America. However, the importance of civic and social action by ordinary citizens and residents cannot be overlooked. In the coming years, religious communities will continue to coalesce among themselves, developing ideas on what it means to be religious and politically engaged in America. While the United States is a secular country, its religious citizens play an invaluable role in helping it to remember and uphold its commitments to liberty, justice, and equality in its everyday decision-making.
1) Rick Klein, “House GOP Draws Line on Immigration,” Boston Globe, 27 May 2006.
2) Dalia Hatuqa, “Muslim Community to Join Monday Marchers,” Northwest Indiana Times/Medill News Service, 29 April 2006.
3) ELCA News Service, “ELCA BishopA bishop is an ordained minister who supervises life in a diocese, synod, or other broad region and possesses, among other things, the authority to ordain clergy to the ministry of the church. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and Protest... Speaks at Events Supporting Just Immigration Reform,” 12 April 2006.
4) Erika Chavez and Laurel Rosenhall, “Immigrants Around Nation Oppose Bill, Demand Rights,” Sacramento Bee, 11 April 2006.
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7) Episcopal News Service, “Religious Leaders Advocate for Immigration Reform at Faith and Migration Conference,”
Sojourners, 21 July 2006.
8) Madhi Bray, Executive Director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, personal phone interview, 20 June 2006.
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12) Kifah Mustapha, Assistant Director of the Mosque Foundation, personal interview, 19 June 2006.
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30) Amardeep Singh, Sikh Coalition Legal Director, personal interview, 23 June 2006.
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33) Amardeep Singh, Sikh Coalition Legal Director, personal interview, 23 June 2006.
34) Amardeep Singh, Sikh Coalition Legal Director, personal interview, 23 June 2006.
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39) Swaminathan Venkataraman, Hindu American Foundation, personal phone interview, 18 July 2006.
40) Swaminathan Venkataraman, Hindu American Foundation, personal phone interview, 18 July 2006.
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42) Swaminathan Venkataraman, Hindu American Foundation, personal phone interview, 18 July 2006.
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52) Episcopal News Service, “Religious Leaders Advocate for Immigration Reform at Faith and Migration Conference, Sojourners, 21 July 2006.
53) National Council of Churches News Service, “Religious Leaders call for ‘Comprehensive Reform’ as Congress Debates Immigration Laws,” National Council of Churches Web site, 2 March 2006 accessed 28 July 2006 at http://www.ncccusa.org/news/060302immigrations.html.
54) Piet Levy, “Religious Leaders Join Immigration Protests,” Religion News Service, published by Beliefnet.com, 11 April 2006.
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56) Kim Vo, “More Muslims Going into Law: Sept. 11 Fallout Fuels Civil Rights Efforts,” The Mercury News, 9 July 2006.
57) Moustafa Bayoumi, “Ruling Wrongly OKs Arrests on Race, Religion, and Nationality,” The Augusta Chronicle, 26 June 2006.
58) Yvonne AbrahamAbraham is the patriarch, acknowledged as the father of the lineage of faith by the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. He is presumed to have lived sometime in the period 2000-1700 BCE. He is the father of Isaac by Sarah (Genesis 12.25), and the "..., “150 Illegal Immigrants Arrested in N.E. Raids,” The Boston Globe, 15 June 2006.
59) Charlie Savage, “Fraud Found in Visas for Churches,” The Boston Globe, 11 July 2006.
60) Rick Klein, “Hasert Calls for Forums on Immigration Bills,” The Boston Globe, 21 June 20006; and Rick Klein, “GOP Pushed on Immigration Reform,” The Boston Globe, 11 July 2006.
61) “CAIR-Chicago Kicks Off Electoral Campaign,” CAIR-Chicago e-mail list-serve announcement, 14 July 2006.
62) Jennifer Talhelm, “House Wants to Deny Federal Dollars to Sanctuary Cities,” Associated Press State and Local Wire, 6 July 2006.
63) Yvonne Abraham, “City’s Sanctuary Status Mocked,” The Boston Globe, 5 July 2006; and Yvonne Abraham, “Few Immigrants, but Concern Aplenty,” The Boston Globe, 10 July 2006.