Should the Church advocate for Immigration?

What breaks God’s heart? Last fall we were challenged by the GA co-moderator to spend time reflecting and learning about those things that breaks God’s heart in the world today. This year we have spent time at our presbytery meetings focusing on the Opioid Crisis and the #Metoo. For the September meeting we will be focusing on immigration.

When the topic for the September Presbytery Meeting was announced last week, a few questioned whether this was something the “church” should be doing.

The history of Presbyterians advocating on behalf of immigrants
is as long as the history of United States.

Here is some background to the Presbyterian Church’s recent positions on immigration and Refugees. Assembly after Assembly has determined that this is the work of the church. 

From Presbyterian Policy on Immigration (2006) – 217th General Assembly

The Presbyterian General Assemblies began to speak out on immigration and refugee issues when the aftermath of World War II and the partitioning of Europe displaced millions of people. This led to the 1953 PC(USA) Assembly to call for a comprehensive review of the nation’s immigration policies. In 1954 the PC(USA) Assembly called for legislation to provide for needs of migrant workers who had lived and worked in the United States throughout the war, often replacing workers who were fighting and therefore unable to farm or work in manufacturing. In subsequent years the Assemblies spoke to the problems of refugees arriving in the US from all over the world. The 1980 UPCUSA and 1982 PCUS Assemblies issued general statements on the world refugee situation and expressed support for actions in what was called the “sanctuary movement”, when thousands of Central American refugees poured into the United States fleeing from repression and human rights violations. Mexican migration continued to go unaddressed by the government and in 1981 a PC(USA) joint statement with PCUS stated “Mexican immigrants reveal again our divided mind about immigration. They are told they are needed and at the same time that they are not wanted. They are regarded both as burden and benefit. Political and geographical boundaries are in and of themselves part of the human social existence… However, the only boundaries Christians recognize ultimately are those established by justice and love.”

From Presbyterian Church (USA) Policy on Immigration (2008) – 2018th General Assembly

Immigration is not an issue only in cities and towns near the United States’ northern and southern borders. Presbyteries across the country are frequently contacted by churches for advice and referrals to resources to help address immigration problems at the local level. At the 218th General Assembly (2008), held in San Jose, California, several resolutions were approved. Through these actions the General Assembly has tried to create a way for local churches to become educated and take action on this important issue. The information in these resolutions and the actions they suggest will go a long way in helping us to understand the church’s role in seeking justice for the “strangers” in our midst. The resolutions address issues of human trafficking, detention centers, and the treatment of immigrants. All appreciate the complex nature of immigration laws while at the same time urging Christians and political leaders to work toward understanding. Immigration is an important civil rights’ issue facing the church today. How we respond to this issue will determine what the history books of the next generation have to say about society’s response to this latest chapter in U.S. immigration history.

From The 219th General Assembly (2010) Resolution Regarding a Call to Stand with Immigrant Presbyterian in Their Hour of Need.

The 206th General Assembly (1994) adopted the “Call to Presbyterians to Recommit to Work and Pray for a Just and Compassionate U.S. Immigration Policy.” Again, in 1999 and 2004 Presbyterians, through General Assembly actions, guided by theological and ethical principles, continued to call for a commitment from both Presbyterians and the government to work toward welcoming immigrants into communities and providing just laws that affect those who live and work in the United States. In 2010 Presbyterians addressed the most appropriate way to respond to state laws that result in members of the population being targeted for increased scrutiny

From A brief summary of immigration related resolutions adopted by The 220th General Assembly (2012)

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has often made statements on issues related to immigration, which call for reform of existing laws and advocate for justice for immigrants. Continuing in that history, 220th General Assembly considered more than ten pieces business related to immigration. This was the first time that a committee was organized for the sole purpose of considering immigration business before the General Assembly.

  • Affirming the need for Reform and a Call to Action
  • Calling for passage of the Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act
  • Safe Communities for Everyone
  • Remembering the mandate to love the stranger and advocating for reform
  • Exploration of Being Church Together – Presbyterians to embrace practices of hospitality and prayer
  • Understanding an ecclesiology of “Being Church Together”
  • Understanding the Plight of Immgrants in local communities

From     221st General Assembly (2014)

The Assembly approved Overture 15-04 to recognize the formation of the Presbyterian Immigrant Defense Initiative as a campaign to mobilize congregations, mid councils, and Presbyterian -related organizations to affirm and promote the civil and human rights of immigrants in our communities.

From the 222nd General Assembly (2016)

The Assembly approved Overture 09-06 to 1. Respond to the ancient biblical directive to provide for the stranger and sojourner  to direct the office of the Stated Clerk, The Office of Immigration Issues, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Office of Public Witness and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to provide leadership for the whole PCUSA in diligently advocating for and seeking to improve matters related to United States government refugee resettlement policies and related issues.

From 223rd General Assembly 2018

The Assembly approved a Commissioner’s resolution calling upon the Federal Government to end the zero-tolerance policy of separating families and to reunite parents and children as soon as possible and to remind our church of the Gospel call to work for just and humane policies for all immigrant communities, grounded int eh principles of family unity, human dignity and rights.  Directs the office of Public Witness to advocate for a policy that ensures family unity and safety for those in the asylum process.

They also encourages congregations to learn about the impact of these immigration policies on the lives of church members as well as members of our local communities, making use of resources listed below:

Urges churches and congregations to connect with, accompany, support, and advocate alongside immigrant-focused organizations that can lead us to be part of the voices working for change and transformation of unjust immigration laws and policies.