(Photo: Reuters//Larry Downing)
Even though the government is shutdown and political leaders appear to be unable to work together, evangelical leaders say that immigration reform is moving forward.
While the recent government shutdown has slowed the actions of the federal government, highlighted Congress' polarization, and dominated the domestic agenda, Jenny Yang, the Vice President of Advocacy and Policy and World Relief, said that now was still an important time for the church to act.
"Just because the government is shutdown doesn't mean that the work of the church has stopped. In fact, every day that immigration reform doesn't happen, the consequences of inaction are felt throughout all of our communities," said Yang in a press conference on Oct. 9.
"I think the message we want to send, is, the government, yes they need to address the debt ceiling and funding our government but eventually they are going to have address immigration as well and the more time that they spend delaying immigration reform the more that our communities are suffering and we are bearing the consequences of it every day," she added.
More than 300 small groups of Christians in 30 states across the country will convene to pray for immigrants, immigration reform and their legislators from October 12-20. The Pray4Reform campaign, a movement organized under the larger umbrella coalition, Evangelical Immigration Table, has refused to endorse specific legislation but backed specific principles such as a pathway to citizenship and polices that favor family reunification.
"The heart of God is also calling us not only to reach the stranger and immigrant in our midst, but also calling us to be a people of prayer. We're not primarily focusing on legislation but on prayer," said John Jackson, the President of Sacramento-based William Jessup University. "We're primarily focusing on asking God to direct those that serve us in this way. We want to pray for our leaders."
For many participating pastors, praying for immigrants and praying for their congregation are synonymous.
Pasqual Urrabazo, the Associate Pastor at the International Church of Las Vegas, has watched families in his congregation torn apart when parents were deported back to their countries of origin, separating them from their children left behind in the United States.
"We started notice also that there's a lot of separation," said Urrabazo. "And we found that if one part of the body suffers, that everybody suffers. There were parents that were separated. We ended up taking care of some kids because their parents were taken back to Mexico."
Tim Moore, the pastor of Austin-based Walk Worthy Baptist Church, explained that since the founding of his church three years ago, immigration issues have become more salient to him as many in his congregation are immigrants — both with and without legal status.
Moore ministers to unauthorized immigrants in his own congregation who have shown a willingness to "make restitution…pay fines [and] do whatever a process might take in order for them to right their wrong," and has grown exasperated that there they is no legal remedy for them.
"My great frustration was that there is no legal answer but 'go home' and 12 million immigrants are not going to go home," Moore said in a press conference this week.
"If any other laws were broken in the country, there is a remedy by which you can satisfy the law. But that's not true with immigration," he added.
Moore posited that perhaps the Congress, while gridlocked on budget and fiscal policy, might coalesce around immigration issues, citing behind-the-scene bipartisan legislature meetings
"As many things as our Congressional members choose to fight about, as divisive as the nation is politically, it seems that maybe there is one issue which we might come to an agreement on," he said.
"I pray that the leadership in Congress, the leadership in the House, will come together in a timely matter and find an answer not only for our nation but for our churches that are growing in large numbers with immigration members in the evangelical church," Moore added.