ELCA Presiding Bishop Calls for Immigration Reform in Letter to Obama

On the heels of a global Lutheran gathering focused on the alleviation of hunger, the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reiterated to President Obama his denomination's call for immigration reform.

If Congress does not pass comprehensive immigration reform soon, state legislators and local governments will continue to take immigration policy into their own hands, wrote ELCA Presiding Bishop the Rev. Mark S. Hanson in a letter dated Tuesday, the last day of the 11th Assembly of the wider Lutheran World Federation.

"This would create an untenable patchwork of differing local laws and produce confusion for law enforcement officials and lawfully present people, as well as increased suffering for the undocumented," added Hanson, according to his denomination's news service.

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Late last year, the ELCA Church Council passed a social policy resolution committing the denomination to seeking "compassionate, just, and wise immigration reform."

As part of the resolution, the denomination committed itself to reuniting families and integrating the marginalized, protecting the rights of people at work, and supporting the establishment of just and humane enforcement, among other commitments.

Lutherans believe that hospitality is a central value, explained Hanson in his letter to the president Tuesday.

However, while ELCA has a "robust commitment to effective advocacy," Hanson recognized the "devastating consequences of a broken immigration system" that the nation will have to continue to deal with without a significant change in U.S. immigration policy.

In his letter, Hanson told Obama that a bi-partisan bill is possible "based on efforts [of] only a few years ago."

Back around the summer of 2007, under the Bush administration, a comprehensive immigration reform bill was drawn up by a bipartisan group of senators and White House negotiators.

The immigration reform bill sought to provide a path for the some 12 million illegal immigrants in the country to become citizens, increase border security, and impose stricter surveillance and laws against employers hiring illegal immigrants.

Three-quarters of the Senate's Republicans, however, ended up voting to kill the bill, which fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to limit debate and move it toward final passage. Republican opponents denounced the bill as providing amnesty for the country's illegal immigrants.

In his letter, Hanson said his denomination would continue to call for a comprehensive reform of America's immigration system while striving with others to model and promote civil discourse on these and other issues.

"We are a hopeful church and we are committed to working for a better future for people who migrate and for our country," he wrote.

With 4.6 million members, the ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the nation.

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