Protestant View on Immigration Reform Debate in America

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).


Protestant View on Immigration Reform Debate in America
By Allie Serna

Immigration reform is an issue that almost everyone in the United States has an opinion on. In the last thirty years, changes in federal immigration policy have created an unprecedented rise in the number of immigrants admitted to this country every year (Federation for American Immigration Reform). Issues surrounding immigration policy are complex and opinions on it can be difficult to determine. For example, the “Protestant view” on immigration policy is a difficult concept to pin down. There are many factors to consider when explaining how Protestants feel about immigration, but by reviewing how the group feels about past race relations and looking closer at specific denominations of the group, a conclusion can be reached.

What is Immigration Reform?

Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) is the notion that Congress needs to conduct a review and change the entire immigration system to better reflect the needs of The United States and that of immigrant families.

  • creating legal avenues for people to enter the United States
  • allowing people already here to earn the opportunity to adjust their status
  • addressing the multiyear backlogs in family and employment based immigration
  • creating and implementing a smart border security and enforcement regime that respects core principles of due process

These are just some of the issues brought up during conversation about comprehensive immigration reform. According to a Gallup poll in June of 2011, 43% of Americans believe that immigration to the U.S. should be decreased, 35% believe that it should be remain at its present level, while only 18% believe that it should be increased. (Federation for American Immigration Reform) The question is, however, what is the Protestant view on comprehensive immigration reform.

Protestant View

One way to determine how Protestants view race relations in the form of immigration policy is to look at past feelings and opinions on issues like it. One particular example that this issue can be compared to is the civil rights movement in the 1960s. During this time Protestant groups were generally supportive of the efforts and made it a point to become involved with furthering the movement. Some particular ways Protestants did this were joining protests and demonstrations, advocating for the rights of African-Americans, and the creation and involvement of Black churches (Lambert). Many Protestant denominations use the scripture ideology of ‘love thy neighbor as thyself” when looking at immigration issues. Just as Protestants responded positively to reforming the issues surrounding race relations in the 1960s, so too do many Protestant denominations desire to help immigration reform in present day.

Protestantism is a large Christian faith with thousands of denominations with different ideals. To claim that there is one single “Protestant view” on immigration reform is oversimplifying and generalizing the subject. To truly understand how Protestants view immigration issues, it is necessary to look at some of the largest and well-known denominations.

 American Baptists

During October 2013 the American Baptist Home Mission Societies and American Baptist Churches USA attended the Church World Service’s Global Summit on Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C. At this summit, the American Baptist’s stance on immigration reform could be clearly seen with its input. At one point during the summit, ABCUSA General Secretary A. Roy Medley recited a prayer that called upon legislators to have the moral courage to empathize with the poor and immigrant. The prayer also asked that legislators’ hearts be filled with compassion and courage to bring freedom for immigrants (ABCUSA). From this event and its accompanying prayer, the American Baptist view on immigration reform is definitely positive.

Episcopal Church

In New Jersey and New York on Ash Wednesday of 2013, a faith-based, community and immigrant rights groups held an entire day of actions aimed to repent the sins of immigration policy. In attendance was presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori who shared her view on the topic of immigration policy. During the vigil she stated “Citizens of these United States share some responsibility for those undignified and unjust practices, and our prayer today must be that hearts and minds are opened to the need for justice.” Also during the event, a call for a transformation of the system into a humane one was brought up. Bishop Schori stated that an immigration reform that focused on discerning the difference between people who enter the United illegally to do harm and those who enter illegally because of the long, complex system the United States currently has in place. From this event, it appears that Episcopal Church has a positive view for immigrants who enter the country for harmless purposes. (ENS staff).

 United Methodist Church

On its website, the United Methodist Church has an entire page dedicated to its views on immigration policy. On the webpage, it describes how the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act severely restricted the opportunities of immigrants. The page then goes on to say that this particular law has not worked and that the current immigration system is broken. One statement on the page urges local congregations “to oppose unjust local and state ordinances that seek to deprive undocumented persons of basic social services including the access to adequate housing and protection under the law” (Call for Comprehensive Immigration Reform – The United Methodist Church). The motto of the United Methodist Church is “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” The statements put forth by the church follow this ideology by calling for the just treatment of foreigners in the United States.

 Presbyterian Church USA

As early as April of last year, the Presbyterian Church in the United States was actively supporting a bill for comprehensive immigration reform. In an address about comprehensive immigration reform, Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, claimed that “our church and country have been built by new immigrants who have worked in partnership with those already here. We want to continue this legacy so that others may be blessed as we have.” (Parsons) It seems that while the Presbyterian Church is interested in helping immigrants, it is also interested in recruiting new members into the church. The Presbyterian Church is also interested in family unity as a cornerstone of their beliefs. Because of this, it is focused on maintaining family unity as the foundation of their immigration policy. (PC(USA) OGA)

 Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, like all other Protestants, draws heavily on scripture when looking at debatable issues. The Church uses the Bible and “the experiences of Lutherans in America as an immigrant church in a country of immigrants. The basic themes are grounded in the call to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35) together with the commitment to justice that advocates for fair and generous laws.” (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

 National Association of Evangelicals

Immigrants are the fastest growing part of the evangelical church in America. Most immigrants are strong supporters of traditional family values and traditional family values are a cornerstone of evangelical beliefs. The National Association of Evangelicals turn to scripture as most Protestants do and state that “discussion of immigration and government immigration policy must begin with the truth that every human being is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28).” Because of this particular passage and others in the Bible, they believe that immigrants are made in the image of God and have value that can contribute to the betterment of society. In October 2009, the National Association of Evangelicals Board of Directors passed a resolution supporting comprehensive immigration reform; and in June 2012, the National Association of Evangelicals joined the Evangelical Immigration Table. The Evangelical Immigration Table is a broad coalition of evangelical organizations and leaders advocating for immigration reform consistent with biblical values. (Immigration 2009)

Conclusion

While the “Protestant view” on immigration policy is a seemingly difficult concept to pin down, after analyzing the ideology of a few different denominations, it is mostly clear how Protestants view immigration policy. It is surprising to see all the support for positive comprehensive immigration reform from the various Protestant denominations- at least in policy. This is because it is common for Christian persons to identify with the political right. Because of this trait it could be seen that these Protestants may side with their political party’s views and oppose comprehensive immigration reform. However, when focusing on family unity, scripture passages, and recruitment for their church, Protestants support comprehensive immigration reform at least in policy. During the 1960s civil rights movement, Protestants aided in settling race relations and helped African Americans gain rights. Many denominations (including mainstream and evangelical Protestants) have similar views on immigration reform, and that is that all people, including undocumented people, deserve respect and dignity.

Works Cited

ABCUSA. “American Baptists Continue Immigration Reform Advocacy Efforts.” American Baptist Churches USA. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

“Call for Comprehensive Immigration Reform – The United Methodist Church.” The United Methodist Church. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

ENS staff. “Episcopal Church joins immigration-reform push.” Episcopal News Service. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

“Immigration.” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

“Immigration 2009.” Immigration 2009. National Association of Evangelicals, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

“Immigration Issues.” Home. Federation for American Immigration Reform, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

Lambert, Frank. Religion in American Politics: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2008. Print.

“Office of the General Assembly.” PC(USA) OGA. Presbyterian Church (USA), n.d. Web. 09 May 2014.

Parsons, Gradye. “Addressing Immigration Reform: A Statement from Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly.” Presbyterian Church (USA). Presbyterian Church (USA), 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

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