North Texas churches push for immigration reform

Posted Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Churches in the 28-county Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth are being asked to conduct Masses on Sunday that focus on the need to pass a humane immigration reform bill that would include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Monsignor Stephen Berg, diocesan administrator for the Fort Worth diocese, issued the request supporting a recent appeal from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The U.S. bishops call for a coordinated effort that would include holding the simultaneous Masses nationwide, marches in Congressional districts where the issue has been contentious and phone calls to Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Catholic, and 59 other Republican Catholic members of the House of Representatives.

Among those contacting the Congressional Catholics were presidents of 93 Catholic universities, who sent letters reminding them “that no human being made in the image of God is illegal.”

Last spring, behind the urging of President Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill, and its supporters are urging the House of Representatives to approve the bill when members return from recess.

The bill’s opponents argue that efforts should instead be focused on securing U.S. borders and that the nation’s high unemployment rate would only worsen with an influx of foreign workers.

The Catholic initiative is part of a broader coalition of Protestant and Catholic faith groups, including some leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is also urging Congress to pass an immigration reform bill.

Episcopalians, United Methodists, the Presbyterian Church, U.S., the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other mainline church groups have long supported immigration reform.

The Southern Baptist Convention in June approved a resolution urging churches “to act redemptively and reach out to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all immigrants, start English classes on a massive scale and to encourage them toward the path of legal status and/or citizenship.”

Reform, not amnesty

Russell Moore, who is the new president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Commission, joined his predecessor, Richard Land, in strongly supporting immigration reform, including a path to citizenship.

“There’s a vast difference between amnesty and a path to citizenship,” Moore said in an interview with the Star- Telegram. “Amnesty is simply declaring everyone who is in the country illegally right now legally is a citizen. What we need is to enable people who have been here for years working and paying taxes and supporting a family to go through the steps to become a citizen, including some sort of ramifications for having broken the law.”

Moore is a member of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of both liberal and conservative evangelicals backing immigration reform. He and Bill Hybels, a founder of the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, have been speaking out for immigration reform in radio spots paid for by the Evangelical Immigration Table.

The evangelic coalition calls for adoption of laws that would “respect each person’s God-given dignity, respect the rule of law, protect family unity, guarantee secure borders, ensure fairness to taxpayers and establish a path toward citizenship.”

‘You have to be brave to speak out’

The Rev. Stephen Jasso, pastor of the All Saints Catholic Church on Fort Worth’s north side, has spoken in Austin and in Washington on behalf of immigration reform. He participated in an immigration reform march in Washington in 2010 and had a fourth-row seat in that city when President Obama gave a major speech on immigration reform on July 4, 2010.

Jasso’s church has hosted prayer vigils supporting immigration reform.

Many of his parishioners are undocumented immigrants, but their children were born here and are U.S. citizens.

There are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and more than 60 percent of them are from Mexico, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

“I’m ready for immigration reform. The country is ready for immigration reform,” Jasso said. “It’s Congress that’s not ready.”

The Rev. Dean Reed, an ordained United Methodist minister and regional executive director of the Grapevine-based Justice for Our Neighbors DFW, helped organize about 10 prayer vigils this year in Fort Worth, Dallas, Arlington and Grapevine supporting immigration reform.

Reed, whose offices are in the First United Methodist Church of Grapevine, encourages ministers to speak out on the issue.

“We are in a very conservative area, so you have to be brave to speak out,” he said.

In June, Reed distributed information and a video about immigration reform at the annual meeting of the Central Texas United Methodist Conference at Arborlawn United Methodist Church in Fort Worth.

In his talks, Reed urges church members to meet undocumented immigrants.

“They may be cutting your lawn or serving your table,” he said. “If you meet them you know they have terribly heartbreaking stories. What’s happened is that we treat immigrants like an issue instead of treating them like the children of God that they are.”

‘You can’t just kick them out’

The Rev. Karl Travis, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth, said many of his members are passionate about immigration reform.

“Ours is a nation of immigrants,” he said. “Regardless of our partisan passions, American Christians should demand that Congress address the reality that there are millions of immigrants already in our land that contribute to our common life. Without legal standing, they are subject to shameless discrimination, vulnerable to wage injustice and left open to oppression.”

The Rev. Tom Plumbley, pastor of Fort Worth’s oldest congregation, First Christian Church, said his members “are all over the map” on immigration issues.

“I personally feel something has to be done on the humanity side of things,” Plumbley said. “I understand the concern of a lot of people about rewarding those who have broken laws. But we’ve got to figure out some way to keep from disrupting families whose children have been here all their lives and know no other country.”

Another minister, the Rev. Bob Pearle, pastor of Fort Worth’s Birchman Baptist Church, said the immigration issue includes many difficult factors. Although not for blanket amnesty, Pearle said something must be done to help those who have lived here for years.

“It’s a conundrum,” he said. “Our laws are not enforced for one thing. But then we’ve got some people who have been here 20 or 30 years. You can’t just kick them out. … Most people with any kind of compassion would say no.”

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