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The Faith Movement for Immigration Reform

America's Voice, Column, Maribel Hastings Posted: Nov 24, 2009

This Thanksgiving week, as end-of-year celebrations commence, faith groups across the country stress the moral urgency of immigration reform. These groups have played an important role in the immigration debate, although the process has not been without controversy.

In the 1980s, Catholic priests led marches in Los Angeles calling for legalization of the undocumented, and some offered their churches as sanctuaries -- often challenging their superiors by doing so. In recent years, undocumented activist Elvira Arellano became nationally known when she stayed for a full year in a Methodist church in Chicago which had granted her asylum.

Against the raids

In the wake of massive raids, like those in Iowa at a Marshalltown meatpacking plant in 2006 and a Postville slaughterhouse in 2008, the faithful have been the first to assist families of detainees during their initial trauma and the bitter aftermath of family separation and dire economic need.

In February of this year, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) protested the arrest of undocumented workers in a Washington state factory.

The meaning of Christmas

Last week, the IIC announced the Home for the Holidays campaign, which aims to send 250,000 Christmas postcards to the Capitol advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.

Shared concerns

The goal of seeing undocumented immigrants legalized is shared by the leadership of the Catholic Church, and by leaders of various Protestant groups, including Baptist, Pentecostal, Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations.

Patty Kupfer, Director of Campaign Partnerships for Americas Voice, pointed out that although there has never been credible opposition to immigration reform among faith groups, the difference now, as we gear up for reform in 2010, is that the support from people of faith is both deeper and broader than ever before.

We've seen leaders from conservative Evangelical churches make a bold call for immigration reform, joining long time supporters from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths. We've also seen an unprecedented level of mobilization from the faith community at the grassroots level, added Kupfer.

A Pew Hispanic Center study concluded that 68% of Latinos are Catholic, 15% are evangelical Protestants, and 8% are not affiliated with a particular religious denomination.


Kevin Appleby, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), told Americas Voice that there are still elements in all our faiths that are nativist and that do not agree with us on immigration reform. They impact those in the middle who we are trying to convert to our side. So, it is still a hard lift, but we are making progress.

Since 2002, the USCCB has maintained that the current immigration system needs to be fixed in order to be just and humane.

Catholics, who represented only 1% of residents of the United States at the time of the nations founding in 1776, are now the most populous religious group in the country, numbering 70 million faithful.

The growth of the Catholic population is partly the result of the presence of immigrants, especially those from Latin American countries.

One Zogby poll in October 2008 indicated that 69% of Catholics favor legalizing undocumented immigrants, including providing them with a path to citizenship.


The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which represents 45,000 churches,issued a resolution in October advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. The resolution was supported by 87% of the NAEs national assembly.

It is estimated that Latino evangelical churches have between 7 and 9 million followers in the U.S., of whom about half are converts -- mostly from the Catholic Church.

Galen Carey, the NAEs Director of Government Affairs, indicated that since the 2007 bill was defeated, the NAE has had 2 years to engage in dialogue and develop a clear consensus among our leaders, which we hope will help us to advocate more effectively for immigration reform in the coming year.


The opposition of certain conservative religious groups to legalization has been controversial, as has been the call by some Latino evangelicals to boycott the Census if immigration reform fails to pass. This call has been widely criticized and challenged by national Latino organizations.


A large part of the public actions supporting immigration reform have been religious in nature. Many of the demonstrations in 2006 and 2007, for example, took the form of vigils.

The day after President Obamas inauguration, religious leaders took part in a ceremony in front of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in which they conducted readings from the Old Testament to entreat a change.

The action, organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and the National Capital Immigrant Coalition (NCIC), included a cleansing of ICE facilities.

The contributions of the faithful have also been prominent in the actions Congressman Luis Gutierrez has conducted throughout 2009 in support of immigration reform, and will surely continue to be so throughout the coming year.

Rafael Prieto Zartha contributed to this article.

Related Articles:

Immigrant Rights Movement Fights On, Despite Obstacles

Anti-Immigrant Groups: A Chorus of Intolerance

DREAMers: Taking the Reins of their Cause

Law Enforcement Officials Call for Immigration Reform

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