CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) — Christians, especially political leaders of both parties, have a moral duty to address the plight of undocumented immigrants in America — as part of the Gospel message to bring justice to the poor, welcome the marginalized and stand up for the powerless.
That was the main point during a recent screening in Charlotte of “Gospel Without Borders,” an award-winning documentary that tells the story of illegal immigrants in several states, including Arkansas and North Carolina.
It depicts how Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians address immigration from a faith-based perspective, without delving into the partisan divide on the issue. It was produced by EthicsDaily.com, a division of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn., and funded by a grant from the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas.
More than 90 people attended a screening of the film Sept. 4 at St. Peter Catholic Church, followed by a discussion led by religious leaders who were featured in the documentary or who advocate for immigration reform, including Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Ark. The audience included other religious leaders as well as delegates in town to attend the Democratic National Convention.
Bishop Taylor, who has worked more than 25 years in Hispanic ministry and wrote a 2008 pastoral letter on the human rights of immigrants, is featured in the film.
The nonpartisan event was about “a moral witness of faith leaders to political leaders about the urgency of addressing immigration reform. Nothing more. Nothing less,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and co-producer of the documentary, in an editorial.
He also called on politicians to address the situation of close to 11 million undocumented people living in the United States and to fix a broken federal immigration system.
Joining Bishop Taylor on the panel were United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano, leader of the Methodists’ Desert Southwest Conference, based in Phoenix, and Bishop Julian Gordy of the Atlanta-based Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“We say we’re one nation under God, but we don’t act that way,” Bishop Taylor said during the discussion following the screening.
He held up a thick volume of “Caring for Migrants: A Collection of Church Documents on the Pastoral Care of Migrants,” a compendium of church teaching on immigration over the past 60 years.
“The fullest expression of Catholic teaching on immigration and national borders and the human rights of immigrants is rooted in the dignity and transcendence of the human person as revealed in Scripture,” the bishop said.
Every person — whether in the U.S. legally or not — has the inalienable right to be treated with dignity, he said. All people have a right to life as well as adequate food, shelter and clothing, access to medical care, the chance to earn a fair wage and the ability to care for their children.
Countries might organize some rights under the law to protect the common good, Bishop Taylor acknowledged, and borders can be helpful ways to define governmental authority and regulate the flow of people and goods.
But laws and borders should not create second-class residents, nor prevent people from reasonably seeking a place to live, nor justify inhumane treatment, he said.
The panelists dispelled three myths commonly associated with undocumented immigrants: They are flagrant law-breakers, are a drain on social services and do not pay taxes.
Most immigrants come to the United States driven by poverty, crime, corruption and famine and no way to support their families in their own country.
Federal quotas on the number of immigrants from particular countries are woefully inadequate to meet economic demands, and the legal process to obtain a visa or citizenship takes a person more than a decade to complete on average, the speakers said.
Immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take away, they also noted. Studies show the income, sales, Social Security and payroll taxes that undocumented workers pay total more than they receive in medical care or welfare.
Immigrants have fueled the U.S. economy for generations, noted Bishop Gordy, adding that each successive wave was greeted with suspicion and racism, yet each played an integral part in building the nation.
The Statue of Liberty, once a proud symbol of the nation’s immigrant identity, “seems a bit quaint nowadays and sadly ironic,” Bishop Gordy said. “Ellis Island has been replaced by a steel fence.”
Recent state laws designed to respond to the problem in the wake of the federal government’s paralysis, he said, end up looking like “Jim Crow with a Spanish accent.”
Fear shouldn’t stop people of good will from continuing to advocate for a humane immigration system that upholds family unity, provides a path for undocumented workers to earn legal status, protects all workers’ rights, provides due process in detentions, and lays out a responsible process for the flow of workers in the U.S. economy, panelists said.
“I believe that we are at a very perilous moment in the history of this country when it comes to the immigration situation,” Bishop Carcano said.
Christians have a sacred duty to care for their immigrant brothers and sisters, she said, but “the immigration crisis in this country will not be dealt with effectively by simple charity. We are in need of comprehensive immigration reform.”
Now “is the critical moment,” she said, “because our souls are dependent on it.”
Guilfoyle is editor of the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.