Bishops: anti-immigrant sentiment a test of our faith

As faith leaders, we are called to love our neighbors, to welcome the stranger and to stand with the vulnerable. We find ourselves struggling to live up to that calling in a nation where our highest leaders espouse anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Just two weeks ago, we witnessed the inhumane separation of yet another family: Lizandro (19) and Diego Claros (22) were detained on July 28 at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement check-in and were deported to El Salvador within days. The Claros bothers came to the U.S. as children fleeing violence, and they now leave behind their parents, a brother and a sister in Gaithersburg. Our national leadership knowingly dismantles families and sends young men like the Claros brothers to countries ravaged by gang violence. Therefore, we must abide by the tenets of our faith and decry current immigration policies.

While our immigration system is deeply flawed, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, instituted in 2012, has allowed nearly 800,000 young people like Lizandro and Diego to live and work legally in the United States without fear of detention and deportation. These young people know the United States as home. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, our congregants, our friends.

Aug. 15 marks the fifth anniverary of DACA, which has been but one small step toward justice for our immigrant community. At present, 10 states have threatened to sue the president if he does not terminate the DACA program by September 5th. Despite President Donald Trump’s prior statements that he supports these dreamers, the administration has signaled that they may not defend the program in court and could dismantle it in light of these legal challenges.

The repeal of DACA would be morally reprehensible. We cannot allow the story of Lizandro and Diego Claros to be repeated for hundreds of thousands of young people across our nation. Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me,” and yet our nation would dare to deport people who came to this country as children seeking refuge. If we are to truly live out our faith, then we must demonstrate an ethic of hospitality and advocate that those who have been granted safety, opportunity, and legal status through DACA be allowed to stay.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric would have us believe that detentions and deportations serve to protect our nation, but we must ask: Why must we be protected from young men and women pursuing a brighter future for themselves and their families? DACA simply allows so many who know the U.S. as home to pursue the same educational and career opportunities as their non-immigrant peers. DACA promises a future, and its repeal would leave our dreamers in limbo.

We ask our Maryland brothers and sisters to call upon our congressional representatives to do everything in their power to protect DACA. Our senators and representatives must urge the administration to continue DACA, and furthermore, they must support legislation that would ensure that undocumented youth are able to stay in the United States and pursue a path to citizenship.

We unite as faith communities across traditions and act upon our moral obligation to welcome the stranger and uphold the dignity of all people. In Baltimore, many faith communities have joined together through CASA’s Sanctuary Network, one way in which we can heed the call to provide safe harbor for the vulnerable and oppressed. This sanctuary network supported the family of Jesus Peraza, who was detained in Southeast Baltimore and then deported earlier this year.

Yes, our faith calls us to support our vulnerable neighbors in such moments of crisis, but we can do more. We can create pathways so that immigrants like Jesus, Diego, and Lizandro do not have to live in fear and hiding. One such pathway is DACA, and we must protect and fight for its continuance.

The current anti-immigrant sentiment taking root in our nation is test of our faith. Do we give in to nationalism and bigoted self-interest, or do we choose to love our immigrant neighbors and abide by our calling so that they may continue to live peacefully among us? Our Christian faith demands that we choose the latter. Stand with us, defend DACA, and make Maryland a place where neighborly love is manifest.

The Rev. William “Bill” Gohl Jr. (bgohl@demdsynod.org) is bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod, ELCA. The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton (esutton@episcopalmaryland.org) is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. The Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen (cknudsen@episcopalmaryland.org) is assistant bishop of Maryland.

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