General Convention unites behind immigrants, in prayer, action, legislation

By David Paulsen
Posted Jul 12, 2018

“We do not come in hatred, we do not come in bigotry, we do not come to put anybody down, we come to lift everybody up. We come in love,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry told a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered in prayer at the T. Don Hutto detention facility in Taylor, Texas. Photo: Frank Logue

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] If there was one issue that defied any expectation of controversy at the 79th General Convention, it was immigration.

Bishops and deputies arrived in Austin last week on the heels of a national uproar over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward immigration, particularly the decision to separate children from parents in detention. And despite the administration’s reversal on family separations, immigration policies continued to be a hot-button issue, including in the border state hosting the Episcopal Church’s triennial gathering.

But if the country remains divided over what to do about immigration, the thousands of Episcopalians gathered here presented a unified front in support of families who have been separated, those facing deportation and immigrants in general – through prayer, testimony, action and the unobstructed passage of legislation.

One of the defining moments of this General Convention was the prayer vigil held July 8 outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an immigrant detention facility little more than a half-hour outside of Austin. A massive gathering of more than a thousand Episcopalians prayed and sang in support of immigrant parents and children who had been separated.

“We do not come in hatred, we do not come in bigotry, we do not come to put anybody down, we come to lift everybody up,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in his sermon at the prayer vigil. “We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus, and Jesus taught us love.”

That spirit carried through to the church’s legislative process. About 25 people testified July 7 at a hearing on all resolutions related to immigration, and the Trump administration’s policies loomed large.

The Rev. Nancy Frausto, a featured speaker at the TEConversation joint session on racial reconciliation, testified at the hearing to her fear of deportation after President Donald Trump ended a policy of protection for “Dreamers” like her who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children.

“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.

The Social Justice and Unites States Policy Committee, with the input received at the open hearing, combined some of the resolutions into three that encompassed many of the issues discussed. In addition to C033, the committee recommended A178, which takes a forceful stand against family separations and treatment of immigrant parents and children, and C009, titled “Becoming a Sanctuary Church.”

The latter resolution encourages Episcopalians and congregations to reach out to and support immigrants facing deportation, including by providing physical sanctuary if they choose, but “this resolution does not call on them to do so,” committee member Daniel Valdez of the Diocese of Los Angeles said on the House of Deputies floor during debate on the resolution July 12.

“Sanctuary has a powerful theological grounding,” Valdez said, while emphasizing the resolution’s intent is to encourage Episcopalians to make connections with undocumented immigrants through legal assistance, advocacy or pastoral care.

The House of Bishops had passed the three resolutions without objection and without discussion in voice votes July 11, and the three were taken up together in the afternoon session July 12 in the House of Deputies.

Diana Marcela Abuchar Sierra

Diana Marcela Abuchar Sierra, a member of the Official Youth Presence from the Diocese of Colombia, speaks in favor of the immigration resolutions July 12 in the House of Deputies. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Diana Marcela Abuchar Sierra, a member of the Official Youth Presence who is from the Diocese of Colombia, spoke out against the Trump administration’s immigrant detention policies during floor discussion of A178.

“I refuse to see how people who just want to better themselves are treated so inhumanely and cruelly,” Abuchar said in Spanish through an interpreter. “Please, as the Episcopal Church, we must defend their rights and their dignity. As the Episcopal Church, we must raise their voices and be heard.”

Wendy Cañas, a deputy from the Diocese of New York, offered a similar sentiment in supporting C033.

“We are speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves,” she said. “We are also telling the government … that the Episcopal Church will keep them morally accountable for sustaining and supporting the families in our country.”

As in the House of Bishops, no one spoke against any of the three resolutions in the House of Deputies, and the deputies were essentially unanimous in favor. All three voice votes passed without any audible “no” in the hall.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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Comments (23)

  1. william dailey says:

    They refer to “all immigrants” . Why couldn’t they be honest and say illegal immigrants? I guess being honest is too much to ask.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      Because specifying illegal immigrats would be dishonest. They do stand for all immigrants, including undocumented ones and asylum seekers.

      1. Frances Clemmensen says:

        I am greatly relieved the Church has addressed this and has come down on the side of justice, moral clarity and love. What is happening on our borders is wrong. We must have the courage to stand up for and beside those who are the targets of unimaginable horrors. Racism is neither patriotic nor Christian.

        1. Jane frey says:

          This is not racism, our laws must be obeyed! Illegals need to go thru the process and Congress needs to pass sensible immigration laws!

    2. Roger Hamilton says:

      They should not be called “immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers” or any such title. They are all Illegal immigrants. To say anything more gives them a status they do not deserve.

      1. Donald Caron says:

        Roger, please see American and international law concerning asylum seekers. You will discover that it is the Trump administration that is breaking the law.

      2. Matt Ouellette says:

        It’s used to grant them humanity, rather than dehumanize them. As Christians, we should avoid using dehumanizing language about our brothers and sisters made in the image of God.

  2. cynthia seddon says:

    calling them in not dehumanizing, illegal is what they are.As a soverein country our borders are there for a reason, and I for one believe in revamping our immigration system, and encouraging people to apply as millions have done before them. We cannot sustain the flood of immigrants at our borders, be reasonable and respect the fine efforts being done to help. Many of the children were sent alone by their parents,not forcibly separated,

    1. Fred Keller says:

      Why treat foreign lawbreakers any different than we treat our own citizens? Without laws and their even enforcement, we are nothing. Somebody that robs a store to feed a starving child has a good cause, but must suffer the legal consequences. As will the child. but that’s reality.

  3. Judy Stevens says:

    No human being is illegal. The General Convention has done well to recognize that we all are made in the image and likeness of God. We are called as followers of Jesus to care for the stranger and for those most in need among us. Surely the latter includes the desperate people who walk the Sonoran desert in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

  4. Matt Ouellette says:

    It’s a shame to see such a lack of compassion from some commenters here for immigrants and their families. Apparently “law and order” are more important than “love thy neighbor.” Yes, we do need to enforce our immigration laws, but considering no previous administration felt it necessary to rip apart families for seeking asylum, I don’t think we need to resort to such an inhumane punishment. Also, I here the need for comprehensive immigration reform, which I agree is necessary. Too bad we had such a bill pass the Senate in 2014 with bipartisan support, only to die in the House because conservatives derided it as amnesty. So, which is it?

    1. Terry Francis says:

      This is not about “lack of compassion” nor is it about law and order over love thy neighbor. Why does it have to be a choice? I am fed up with holier than thou progressives who lable people who want our immigration laws obeyed racists or lacking in compassion. If you find the term illegal immigrant dehumanizing, oh well. That is what they are. Yes they too are God’s children, but guess what, they are still breaking the law. And with all due respect, I don’t need to be lectured about compassion. We cannot have countless thousands of illegal immigrants pouring unimpeded over our borders. What part of that statement do you progressives not understand??

      1. Matt Ouellette says:

        What part of “they are not pouring across our border” do you not understand:
        http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2017/apr/26/ron-kind/yes-experiencing-net-outflow-illegal-undocumented-/
        http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/11/19/more-mexicans-leaving-than-coming-to-the-u-s/
        I’m sorry that you feel lectured to about morality by progressives, but this isn’t just a progressive issue. Plenty of groups across the political spectrum think our current enforcement of immigration laws is cruel, including other Christian denominations. This is a moral issue, and the fact that many political conservatives are uncomfortable with being called out on it is a greater indictment on secular conservative culture and its lack of compassion, not on progressives or TEC.

      2. Jordan Sakal says:

        Quick question Mr. Francis,

        What Native American tribe do you or your family hail from? Just asking because you claim to decry these “illegal immigrants” yet you yourself likely have family that were immigrants of dubious nature because frankly as a genealogist of over 12 years experience I can tell you that most people I have worked on research for are faced with that same issue. They are not as holier than thou or as pure as you think or claim to be. I can proudly (and do proudly) claim my Polish, Hungarian, Slovak, English and Dutch heritages. (in fact I am frankly prouder of those heritages than I am currently of being an American)

        Even if your family did naturalise as citizens of the United States, that process back in the 1900s cost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars and took five plus years of being you guessed it, a law abiding but (you guessed it) an ILLEGAL ALIEN. The process of migration is of course even more complex and more expensive nowadays, but that’s neither here nor there, in fact it makes the situation even more difficult.

        1. Bill Louis says:

          We are all immigrants. My ancestors came here legally in the beginning of the last century as did your’s so whats your point? The issue is illegal immigration which costs us taxpayers around $113B in federal and state taxes a year. Some illegals pay taxes but its not nearly enough to offset the taxpayers burden. There is a way to come to our country legally and that’s they way it should be done. I don’t care if the church thinks its cruel to prosecute and deport migrants for crossing the border illegally. If we allow aliens to stream over the border in checked then before long we won’t have a country anymore. Other countries have strict immigration laws. If you don’t believe it cross over into Mexico and hold a rally demanding citizenship. Mexican’s can’t even vote in their elections without an ID. I don’t get why the EC thinks its OK for foreigners to break our laws in the name of Christianity.

          1. Matt Ouellette says:

            Except, as I showed above, illegal immigration is not a major problem at this time and we are experiencing a net decrease in illegal border crossing. What I don’t get is why the only way to punish illegal immigration, according to the anti-immigrant crowd, is to detain and deport. Why can’t we do something like the 2014 Senate Immigration Reform bill, which punished illegal immigration by requiring violators to follow a lengthier pathway to citizenship than would be required of those who went through the official process instead? Why can’t we try to find more compassionate ways to enforce our laws instead of having to resort to the most cruel forms of enforcement?

          2. Bill Louis says:

            Matt, You say illegal immigration is not a major problem at this time and we are experiencing a net decrease in illegal border crossing. I submit its because of the US taking a tougher stand on illegal immigration. What is your end game here? Do you favor no borders at all? How long will our economy be able to withstand a constant flow of unskilled immigrants into our country taking jobs from Americans at a lower pay rate. Many come with no marketable skills and with no possibility of coming off social programs in the near future. Many that do work send billions of dollars back to relatives in their home country. I’m all for legal immigration that brings people with skills and businesses in that will benefit our economy. Otherwise their home country can take care of them. Sorry if thats an un-Christian attitude. I care what kind of country my children and grandchildren will have to deal with when I’m gone.

          3. Jordan Sakal says:

            Mr. Louis,

            Do you have a citation for your monetary figure because I can provide citation to show that immigrants earned $1.3 trillion and contributed $125 billion in state and local taxes and nearly $224 billion in federal taxes in 2016 (Economic Policy Institute/ABC News) and yes, that data is four years old, but it is the most recent data I can find. This is on par with the data you are finding so that is basically a wash.

          4. Bill Louis says:

            Jordan, a 2017 artical from FAIR. There’s others but this is the most comprehensive I’ve found: https://www.fairus.org/issue/publications-resources/fiscal-burden-illegal-immigration-united-states-taxpayers

          5. Matt Ouellette says:

            I wouldn’t trust any numbers coming out of FAIR. It’s an anti-immigration group and is even labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center:
            https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/federation-american-immigration-reform
            With regard to your other statements, there is little evidence that a crackdown on illegal immigration is the cause of a net decrease in border crossings, considering the Pew study I cited is from 2015, before the current administration with its “zero tolerance” policy came in. And I don’t get why you think I want open borders. As I said, I just want compassionate enforcement of our laws instead. Did you completely ignore my suggestion on how we can enforce illegal immigration humanely via the Senate bill from 2014? And I, too, care about the kind of country that we leave behind for future generations. I just don’t think immigrants (even unskilled ones) will ruin it. That’s more likely to occur from policies that favor rich corporations over the poor and middle-class.

          6. Bill Louis says:

            Matt, You can pretty much find data on the Internet to support any position you want to take. So what does the Pew study surmise is the cause of the slowdown? You mention compassionate enforcement, I don’t know what compassionate enforcement means. We read about deportees being sent back for the 9th time. How much more compassionate can we other than just allowing them to stay.. I didn’t ignore your statement. I don’t believe such a promise would be upheld much like the promise form Congress for stricter border security promise for amnesty in the Reagan years. After such a law is passed there would be a call for amnesty because they have been waiting too long. I do not support the EC’s soft handed policy on immigration. Lets just enforce that laws already on the books. I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on immigration.

          7. Matt Ouellette says:

            You don’t know that there would be a call for amnesty. That’s just conjecture. And I think allowing the pathway to citizenship is the more humane approach to immigration enforcement. While we disagree on immigration policy, I would we can both agree that separating children from their parents at the border is wrong.

  5. Sylvia Knight says:

    My heart is deeply saddened to read comments referring to people who have migrated to this country from Mexico or Central America as “illegals” or “illegal aliens”. No human being is illegal, period. We are all part of God’s family. No one is looking at why people are migrating north to US. Trade policies have made it extremely difficult if not impossible for people to continue making a living in their own countries. US interventions in Central America have perpetuated and supported violence through deployment of quasi-military graduates of the School of the Americas, or WHINSEC. Our government has supported repressive leaders in Honduras and the militarization of that country. People are fleeing violence perpetrated by our own country. Our neighbors to the south need a place to live, be safe, and contribute to their new communities, not to be persecuted and treated as criminals. I am sick and tired of my Mexican friends, brothers & sisters, being treated like criminals by our states and judicial systems when all they want is the ability to live and work peaceably in our communities. We have to look upstream to understand why people would make the painful decision to leave home and members of their family. Our country is violating principles of international law and of human compassion. Lord, have mercy!

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