June 21, 2007

We believe our society will arrive at a viable immigration reform model only through thoughtful, informed, and civil discourse that respects the God-given humanity of each individual person and every group of people. We also believe that immigration policy must take into consideration and strive to protect civil and human rights.

As people of faith with an uncompromising commitment to the dignity of every human being – regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, language, place of birth, or economic circumstances – we are deeply concerned about the callous and hateful tone of much of the public dialogue around immigration issues.

We are particularly concerned with the frequently derogatory references to men, women, and children in terms that seem to dismiss their humanity and justify any proposed mistreatment of them. Such defaming and diminishing of newcomers to this nation is neither faith-filled nor American. Nor is it new.

The ancestors of most of today’s native-born citizens included newcomers to this nation. Many came to these shores generations ago under much simpler immigration policies, while others came in chains and against their will. Once here, however, every group has contributed richly to building the great nation we are blessed to be today.

Let us not forget, however, that the contributions of generations of Americans in marginalized groups were discounted and hampered by mean-spirited public attitudes manifested in dehumanizing stereotypes, insulting names, and phrases such as Irish need not apply, yellow hordes, and white only. The reprehensible behaviors associated with such attitudes stained our national history and left wounds that have yet to fully heal.

If we are to treat others as we would like to be treated, if we believe that mercy will be measured out to us even as we measure it out to others, it seems important to forgive those who violated what we now recognize as the flawed immigration laws of our country.

These are people taking considerable risk to work for a better life for their families in a new land. Many remained here on expired visas or came here to join family members, waiting a decade or more for legal immigration requests to be processed. Certainly, legal status is important and must not be ignored, but one’s legal status cannot be the final measure of one’s humanity.

We are not suggesting that the United States not act to secure its borders. Security precautions are necessary to protect the integrity of our borders and the well being of the American people.

However, blaming newcomers for long-standing problems of health care, education, and employment – and denigrating those who may look and sound different from us – does not make us stronger or safer. Indeed, it diminishes us all.

Let us, instead, open our hearts with the hope of finding solutions that are best for our nation, our world, our souls, and the future of our children – many of whom, let us remember, are listening intently to our public dialogue on immigration.

We sow the seeds of the future with our words and our actions in the vast field of our global neighborhood. We will reap what we sow. May God help us through these difficult times and empower us with compassion for our neighbors and respect for their essential humanity.

On November 3, 1957, as you may know, The Atlanta Constitution published a manifesto, signed by 80 Christian pastors, calling for calm and civil dialogue and behavior around the challenging and divisive public issue of racial desegregation.

In that same spirit of respect for the dignity of every human being, we endorse the December 11, 2005, Resolution of the Southeast Region Board of the Anti-Defamation League, cited below. We invite you, as a person of faith, to do the same in engaging immigration reform as one of the most challenging and divisive public issues of our time. The Resolution calls on us each to:

1. Recognize and protect the basic human rights of immigrants.

2. Support human rights and the humane treatment of undocumented persons as part of the tradition of fighting bias, prejudice, bigotry, and hate.

3. Recognize and publicly denounce xenophobia and anti-immigrant bias as having no place in Georgia or anywhere in the United States.

4. Monitor and respond to extremist groups who advocate bigotry or racism, armed citizen response, vigilantism in any form, violence or any other tactic that subverts the democratic process.

5. Hold all law enforcement and judicial processes that relate to deportation, detention, and immigration status to the highest standards of human rights and dignity.

6. Recognize the need for a safe and secure United States.

For the LORD your God…upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19

I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me…. I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
The Holy Bible (NIV), ''Matthew 25:35-40""

Endorsing Organizations:
American Jewish Committee Atlanta Chapter • Anti-Defamation League • Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda • Cobb Cherokee Immigrant Alliance • Council on American Islamic Relations – Georgia • Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta • Faith And The City • Family Life Restoration Center, Mableton • GALEO • Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights • Georgia Rural Urban Summit • Latin American Association • MALDEF • Pax Christi Atlanta • Pax Christi St. Jude • Refugee Resettlement & Immigration Services of Atlanta • The Regional Council of Churches of Atlanta • St. Vincent de Paul Society of Atlanta • World Pilgrims