WASHINGTON – Immigration reform, an issue that has been pushed to the backburner due to the state of the economy, was revived Wednesday when a diverse group of faith leaders launched a large-scale campaign to push U.S. lawmakers to quickly tackle the complex and emotionally charged problem.
Five religious leaders from Christian and Jewish traditions were joined by two U.S. congressmen to launch the "Prayer, Renewal and Action on Immigration" campaign. The campaign seeks to engage and educate congregations and people of faith on the immigration reform debate.
It includes, among its first set of actions, holding over 100 prayer vigils across the country in the month of February.
"We are in a new moment here. We have a new president talking in new ways about a lot of things," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president and executive director of Sojourners, a progressive social justice ministry. "So at this moment we call upon President Obama and the new congress to demonstrate moral courage to pass immigration policies that uphold the moral fabric of the nation."
All the speakers, from religious leaders to the U.S. Congressmen, criticized current U.S. immigration laws for breaking up families and mistreating illegal aliens. They call for new policies that provide a pathway for undocumented immigrants to earn residency.
"Immigrants are not the problem," said United Methodist Bishop Minerva G. Carcano of the Desert Southwest Conference.
"Immigrants are part of the solution to our national problems," contended Carcano, the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church.
"As people of faith, we cannot stand and will not stand while families are separated, while individual freedoms are ignored and the immigrant community in the United States is mistreated unjustly and inhumanely," she said.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, which organized the campaign, is a partnership of faith-based organizations committed to enacting humane immigration reform that reflect the Scripture's teaching on welcoming the stranger and treating everyone with respect.
"We have, literally, tens of thousands of American citizens whose wives are being deported, whose husbands are being deported," said U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.). "We have millions of American citizen children who when they wake up in the morning to go to school fear all day long whether or not their parents will be there at the end of the day."
Gutierrez, who has been a leading figure for immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representative, calls for immigration laws that better respect family values.
Others who spoke at the event include U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, among others.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition says its platform on immigration has been signed by over 500 congregations from coast to coast.
There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.