Of Note: The Promise and Power of Interfaith Advocacy
Posted by Gideon Aronoff on Wed, Mar 19, 2008 at 12:39 pm
On March 10th I had the great privilege to participate in and serve as moderator of a historic gathering of faith leaders committed to breaking the political and societal deadlock that has, thus far, undermined all attempts to create workable and humane immigration laws. HIAS and our partners in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) convened this roundtable of bishops, ministers, rabbis, and other religious leaders to address our common religious calling to “serve the stranger among us,” and to kick off a grassroots organizing effort in churches, synagogues, and other faith institutions to build a powerful constituency for immigration reform. This constituency has the promise and potential to change the dynamic of the immigration debate.
The leaders at the roundtable from the Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, Mormon, Baptist, Church of Christ, Mennonite, Lutheran, Episcopal, Jesuit, and Methodist faiths are part of the broader IIC, a coalition that includes many other Christian and Jewish groups, as well as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh advocates for fair and effective immigration policies. The IIC offers important opportunities for activists of different religions to come together to seek common solutions. Not only is dialogue encouraged among faiths, but crucial discussions are facilitated within the same religious confessions, as demonstrated by the conservative, progressive, white, and Hispanic Evangelical leaders who joined the roundtable to explore how they can best engage their community in immigration reform.
Kicking off the event was a compelling presentation by Deborah Lauter, National Civil Rights Director of the Anti-Defamation League, one of HIAS’ key Jewish partners on refugee and immigration issues. Lauter called on the faith community to counteract neo-Nazi and other White Supremacist groups’ recruitment of supporters based on fear of immigrants, the adoption of extremist language dehumanizing immigrants and propagating conspiracy theories about Mexico by more mainstream anti-immigrant activists, and the rise in hate crimes against Latinos resulting at least in part from a coarsening of the debate about the future of American immigration policy. This discussion made clear that our work on immigration reform is essentially about who we are as a nation – what Reverend Gabriel Salguero of the Church of the Nazarene described as a “call for an internal dialogue to reexamine our identity and what we have been called to do.”
We identified the need to devise new and appropriate language and messaging for faith-based activists as a core challenge in creating a specifically religious campaign for immigration reform. How should we discuss the undocumented in ways that honor their essential humanity? How should advocates of immigration reform speak in a language of values rather than arcane policy prescriptions? How should faith communities discuss a commitment to rule of law, protection of the most economically vulnerable, and the need for enhanced security in ways that recognize the sincerity of these views while remaining focused on finding practical solutions to help fix our broken immigration system?
We also sought to establish clear goals for grassroots action, reaching consensus on several vital courses of action. We must train, educate, inspire, and guide our congregations and communities across the religious and political spectrum to help them become advocates for immigration reform. We must actively confront immigration restrictionists who engage in hate crimes and hate speech. We must encourage our local communities to undertake service programs to create person-to-person connections with newcomers. We must compete with anti-immigrant activists in the media – print, broadcast, cable, and online. As we concluded the roundtable, we agreed to meet again by conference call in the next few weeks and to look to a June Interfaith Immigration Coalition conference in Ohio to launch the grassroots component of the campaign.
HIAS’ work coordinating the IIC is a direct offshoot of our longstanding activities with Jewish community partners through which we have helped form a common advocacy agenda on refugee and immigration policy among mainstream and progressive, and national and local, Jewish organizations. We have brought disparate groups together to find ways to strengthen the Jewish collective response by supporting the particular strengths of each agency. In so doing, we have honored the Torah’s commandment to “love the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
This thought-provoking and constructive dialogue would not have been possible without the generous financial support of the Open Society Institute and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, both of which are benefactors of HIAS’ work with interfaith and Jewish community partners.