[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Few issues were as primed for spirited debate heading into the 79th General Convention as immigration. The Episcopal Church’s triennial gathering is being held in the capital of this border state amid a continuing uproar over a Trump administration policy of “zero tolerance” toward immigrants coming into the country, a policy that involved until recently the separation of children from their parents in detention.
General Convention is considering nine resolutions relating to migration and immigration, and all nine were on the agenda July 7 at a joint hearing of two legislative committees at the JW Marriot hotel, just west of the convention center.
About two dozen people testified, including Central American bishops, border state priests, Episcopalians active in refugee resettlement and at least one “dreamer,” the Rev. Nancy Frausto, who like other dreamers was brought to the United States illegally when she was a child. She now is a priest in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
“The 800,000 dreamers need to have the Episcopal Church stand behind them, and not just them but all immigrants,” Frausto said, speaking in favor of Resolution C033, which puts the church on record as respecting the dignity of immigrants and outlines how public policy should reflect that belief.
“I’m going to keep it simple: This saves lives,” said Frausto, who also was one of the three panelists who discussed racial reconciliation July 6 at the first of three TEConversations, scheduled as joint sessions of General Convention.
The two social justice committees, one focused on United States policy and the other on international policy, held the hearing to take input on resolutions covering a range of topics, including providing sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation, condemning the separation of migrant families, supporting Haitians who are poised to face deportation and calling for legislation to give permanent legal status to the dreamers through federal legislation known as the DREAM Act.
General Convention has spoken out on immigrations issues through resolutions dating back at least as far as the 1980s. Among them is a resolution from 2012 urging passage of the DREAM Act. This year, Resolution C002 urges passage of a “clean” DREAM Act, a reference to recent political developments that have bogged down progress on the legislation since President Donald Trump ended an executive branch policy of protection for the dreamers.
Resolutions passed by General Convention can be used for advocacy work by the Office of Government Relations, which is based in Washington, D.C., and conducts nonpartisan advocacy through direct appeals to congressional offices and by mobilizing the Episcopal Public Policy Network.
Of the nine resolutions on immigration before General Convention, the international policy committee is reviewing just one, D009, but that one is substantial. Titled, “Christian Principles for Responding to Human Migration,” it lays out some of the scriptural and theological basis for the church’s advocacy on such issues, as well as the real-world application of those beliefs.
The Rev. Paul Moore, an Episcopal priest from Silver City, New Mexico, and chair of Rio Grande Borderland Ministries, testified in favor of D009, speaking in English and then translating himself into Spanish and he cited several Bible passages underpinning the church’s outreach toward immigrants.
“Welcome strangers, lest we not miss entertaining angels,” he said, referencing a passage from Hebrews.
Angela Smith testified of her work with Saint Francis Migration Ministries in Kansas, an affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries, one of the nine agencies which contract with the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees in this country. The number of resettlements has plummeted under Trump, which Smith argued is affecting the country’s standing in the world.
“This is not who we are. It is not who we want to be,” Smith said. “Refugees enrich our communities throughout the United States. They bring joy, and they make us better.”
And the Rev. Chris Easthill, a deputy with the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, emphasized that the issues surrounding migration are not exclusive to the United States, and the church can help stem the tide of fear and hate.
“Migration is the big political divide across the globe,” Easthill said. “We need a robust Christian response.”
The hearing came as the bishops and deputies attending General Convention are planning a visible response of their own, with a scheduled trip July 8 to a federal immigration detention facility a little more than a half hour from Austin. A prayer service is planned for about noon outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center, and the Sunday legislative schedule was adjusted to accommodate those who wished to attend.
The prayer service was arranged in response to the Trump administration’s policy toward immigrant families crossing the border illegally with children, and that policy is referenced directly in Resolution A178 is titled “Halt the Intensification and Implementation of Immigration Policies and Practices that are Harmful to Migrant Women, Parents and Children.”
The policy also was cited July 7 during testimony at the joint hearing on immigration.
Bishop Juan David Alvarado of the Anglican-Episcopal Church in El Salvador testified in Spanish with an English interpreter to tell the committees the natural and human-made disasters the country’s people suffered through, from earthquakes to floods to civil war. Salvadoran immigrants seeking to enter the United States are driven by thoughts of safety, family and opportunity, he said.
“The policy of zero tolerance in this country effect greatly the region of Central America,” Alvarado said in supporting Resolution C033.
Several people called for language in the resolutions that strengthened the call to action or provided more specifics about the urgency of these issues. Others said it was important simply for the church to take a stand.
“We need a comprehensive statement. We need this statement,” the Rev. José Rodríguez-Sanjuro, an alternate deputy from the Diocese of Central Florida.
He said his congregation, Jesus of Nazareth Episcopal Church in Orlando, is half immigrants, and many are afraid. He described meeting in his office with a family, the little boy crying. His father already was facing a deadline for deportation and his mother had to check in later this year with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We need a statement that says these families matter to this church,” he said in advocating for Resolution C033. “I’m losing parishioners because of deportation. Give me something I can use to give them hope. Give me something to reinforce the message that this church welcomes you, this church loves you.”
The Rev. Devon Anderson of Minnesota, chair of the domestic policy committee, closed the hearing by thanking those who testified and the more than 100 people who attended.
“Thank you for proclamations of hope and possibility for a presence of our church in the world around advocating for immigrants in our communities,” she said.
Committee deliberations on the resolutions are scheduled for the morning of July 9.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected].