Mainline Church Leaders Chime In As House Wrangles Over Immigration

Congress continued to wrestle over immigration reform Friday, passing a bill to build a fence that stretches across the U.S.-Mexico border but remaining divided over a separate bill that addresses the handling of illegal immigrants already in the States and the strengthening of border control.

On Thursday night, the House passed a measure that called for the construction of a fence in parts of California, New Mexico and Texas. Supporters of the amendments say the fence would cut down on crime and drug smuggling across the border.

However, a vote on a separate immigration reform bill that emphasized border controls and illegal immigrants were pushed off until Friday, after the House Rules Committee rejected a provision that calls to deny citizenship to babies born in this country to illegal immigrants. The Committee determines allowable amendments.

Mainline protestant leaders chimed-in on the discussion throughout the week, largely criticizing all amendments placed before the House. In statements released last week, the mainline leaders said the amendments “fail to accomplish” the goals of true immigration reform.

“[The legislation] fails to accomplish the reforms badly needed in immigration law that will provide for a means of providing a needed workforce, stronger enforcement of law and humanitarian treatment of individuals within the United States,” Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), said in a statement Wednesday.

The Presbyterian head was particularly critical of a provision in the bill that prevents U.S. citizens from transporting undocumented immigrants.

“We are particularly concerned with provisions that place religious groups and private citizens at risk of criminal prosecution as ‘smugglers’ if they aid or transport an undocumented immigrant,” Kirkpatrick said.

Earlier this year, two Presbyterian college students were arrested and indicted for transporting three illegal entrants in their car 25 miles from the border. While in court, the volunteers said the men they were helping were dehydrated and extremely ill and that they were taking the men to a medical clinic. Federal prosecutors say the men weren’t in dire need of aid and that the volunteers were unlawfully aiding the men’s illegal entry. Their case, which began with their July 9th arrest, is still ongoing. A trial has been scheduled for Jan. 10, 2006.

Meanwhile, top Lutherans criticized the House bill on the grounds that it would not give room for guest workers to cross the border or for law-abiding immigrants to gain citizenship.

“Reform must be comprehensive and include smarter enforcement, combined with measures to address the economic and social reasons people migrate," said Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr., president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).

LIRS espouses "four principles essential to successful reform: uniting families, protecting human rights and worker rights, ending the marginalization of undocumented workers, and providing a path to permanence,” he added in a statement released through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America news service.