Bishops of the United Methodist Church applauded President Barack Obama on Friday for his intention to start the immigration reform process this year.
"We join other religious leaders in thanking President Obama for placing immigration reform on his political agenda for 2009," said the 28 UMC bishops who signed the statement as of Friday. "As United Methodists we believe that immigration is a human rights issue that needs serious attention."
Speaking from Mexico City, Obama had said on Thursday that he favors a common sense approach to immigration reform that would help people on both side of the U.S.-Mexico border, according to The Associated Press. The president wants a new system that would streamline the process for immigrants who want to come to the United States, and create a pathway for illegal immigrants already in the country to become legal residents.
Obama's comments on immigration came after his meeting with President Felipe Calderon in Mexico.
Similarly, United Methodist bishops want the new immigration policies to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.
In addition to helping those already in the United States gain legal status, the UMC wants the new immigration system to reunify immigrant families that have been separated due to work place raid or immigration; increase the number of visas for short-term workers to come into the United States; extend legal protection to all workers staying in the U.S. including the right to bargain for higher wages and protest against poor working conditions; and eliminate privately-operated detention centers and end all indiscriminate raids.
"We stand firmly in believing that the inherent value of all immigrants means that all of their civil liberties should be respected and maintained regardless of their legal status," said the United Methodist bishops in their statement. "We believe, however, that our present immigration policies violate these basic rights."
In addition to United Methodist bishops, members of the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) also praised Obama when senior White House staff told some reporters earlier this month that the administration plans to begin immigration reform talks as early as May.
Members of the CCIR include Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourners and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, America's largest Hispanic evangelical organization.
The CCIR said it is meeting with members of Congress in April to gain support for a new U.S. immigration system.