Rev. Gerald Mansholt: Get behind fair, humane immigration reform

07/21/2013 12:00 AM

07/19/2013 6:38 PM

The U.S. Senate recently responded to the voices of faith, business and community leaders by voting to pass S.744, a reform bill that would fix our broken immigration system. It took laudable bipartisan leadership to achieve this landmark progress on a long-neglected problem.

However, to make reform a reality, the House lawmakers must now resist partisan politics. It is their turn to create similar, or better, legislation that reflects our core values of freedom, individual dignity and family unity.

Like many other bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am regularly reminded of the urgent need for fair and humane immigration reform. From Wichita congregations all the way to our business districts, I hear and see how our badly broken immigration system is holding everyone back.

It’s increasingly clear that this system’s long-overdue reform is a win-win situation. Everyone will benefit, from firms and families to our neighborhoods and churches.

We are a country that values the worth and dignity of every individual. We fly flags on the Fourth of July because of our heritage that lifts up the freedom and value of every person. But judging from conversations with other bishops and faith leaders around America, it’s clear how much those values are at odds with our current immigration system.

As I write, parents are ripped from their children by deportations, churches watch congregants flee harsh state immigration laws, and businesses struggle to keep their workforces intact. This is all because we continue to shun more than 11 million people who’ve come to America aspiring to be citizens and who contribute in ways that strengthen our economy and social fabric.

In a concrete sense, immigration reform will help those who walk and work in the shadows of Wichita to come into the full light of citizenship and contribute to the richness of our neighborhoods. Wichita residents have an important stake in promoting immigration reform, because it promises to stimulate our economy through new revenue streams and markets. It’s no surprise that business leaders recognize that immigrants bring needed skills in all sectors of the labor market. Indeed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has found that immigrants create jobs and boost the economy.

I am in favor of S.744 and hope that the House creates similar legislation for five critical reasons. First, S.744 better protects families from separation and ensures an adequate supply of visas for many families seeking reunification with loved ones overseas. Second, it offers a road map by which undocumented people could earn citizenship. Third, it helps guarantee humane enforcement of immigration laws by reducing the use of immigrant detention and by growing community support programs. Fourth, it helps ensure protection of U.S. citizen and migrant laborers. Finally, it creates more efficient processes to protect refugees and asylum seekers.

The majority of Americans of all faiths are calling for an immigration solution that keeps families together and offers a road map to earned citizenship for 11 million aspiring new Americans. But our fight for reform is just starting. As the House drafts legislation, I would ask that the people of Wichita lend an ear and their voices.

Communities, businesses and congregations stand behind fair and humane immigration reform that builds the economy and strengthens America. That’s the message our representatives need to hear.

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