Washington, D.C. – On the eve of the Senate’s first markup of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, CWS President and CEO John McCullough joined faith leaders in urging legislators to ensure that comprehensive immigration reform upholds the United States’ proud history and tradition of protecting and welcoming refugees, asylum-seekers, and those fleeing persecution.
"As members of the Senate Judiciary Committee begin considering amendments to the bipartisan immigration reform bill, Church World Service urges them to protect provisions that would improve the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people. Throughout the CWS network of congregations and refugee resettlement offices, we know first-hand the importance of these provisions. It is our deep hope that immigration reform upholds the United States’ proud history of protecting and welcoming survivors of persecution,” Rev. McCullough said.
The Senate’s immigration bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, S.744, includes several provisions that would protect refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people, while also increasing efficiency and supporting integration. The provisions would not reduce or circumvent the current numerous background checks for refugees and asylum seekers, or reduce the rigorous fraud detection mechanisms currently in place. However, some lawmakers have filed amendments that, if enacted, would weaken the refugee and asylum provisions and prevent people from receiving protection from persecution.
Several other faith leaders also appealed to legislators.
Rabbi Steve Gutow, President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in New York said: “The United States has a great tradition of welcoming and embracing those fleeing from oppression. Judaism demands that we treat all people as if they are made in God's image, which means we must treat them well. How can we possibly ill treat those who are oppressed or living under the yoke of tyranny? Right now, as our national leaders reform our immigration policies, we should also improve our refugee and asylum laws to ensure that those escaping persecution are respected and given the opportunity to breathe free.”
Bishop James Mathes of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, California said: “In opening our communities to refugees from persecution in other lands, our nation shows forth our core values of respecting human rights and dignity. As bishop of a community who has welcomed as friend and neighbor refugees from places as diverse as Sudan, Iraq, and Myanmar, I know first had the gift of life that we provide as well as the great gift we receive from those who come to live among us.”
Rev. Peter Rogness, Bishop of Saint Paul Area Synod (Minnesota) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said: “Lutherans and others in Minnesota have long been active in support of refugees and asylum seekers. Increasingly we find them now as leaders in our communities, members of our churches, and neighbors to us all. They contribute in numerous ways to the thriving and diverse culture of the Twin Cities. As we seek to reform our immigration laws, people of faith must ensure we enact laws that honor these contributions and uphold our biblical call to welcome the newcomer.”
Rev. Dr. Larry Stoterau, President of the Pacific Southwest District (Arizona, Southern California, Southern Nevada) of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod said: “As Congress considers comprehensive immigration reform, we must remember our commitment to serve the most vulnerable. Faith communities have a long history of welcoming those fleeing persecution and helping them adapt to life in a new land. In my service to Lutherans across southern California and Arizona, I am privileged to work with pastors and people who have come as refugees seeking safety and freedom and the joy of a new life. I have benefited personally from working with these wonderful people.”
Rev. Stephen S. Talmage, Bishop of Grand Canyon Synod (Arizona and Nevada) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said: “The major religions of the world call for compassion, hospitality, and justice for the most vulnerable among us. Refugees and asylum seekers would fall in that category. Many find themselves displaced, living in fear, and desperate for assistance because of factors beyond their control, requiring people of faith along with legislative leaders, to work for ways to receive, integrate, and empower them for the common good.”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Florida said: “The United States has always been a safe haven for the world’s persecuted and the legislation reflects American values by offering protections to the world’s most vulnerable. I commend the bi-partisan group of Senators, including Senator Rubio, for recognizing the needs of refugees in their bill.”
Bishop John Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah said: “Refugees themselves are victims of terror. They understand on a daily basis the fear of being persecuted and threatened with the loss of their lives. The refugee provisions in the Senate bill recognize this reality and help protect these vulnerable persons.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin considering amendments to S.744 on Thursday, May 9th, with additional considerations on May 14th, 16th, and 20th-24th. The committee will then send its version of the bill to the full Senate for debate and consideration.