US churches seek action from Obama on immigration justice

By staff writers
May 15, 2009

In a statement this week, 16 synod bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) have expressed deep concern over the damage done to communities and families by US immigration raids, detention and other enforcement actions.

They are one of a number of mainline denominations and progressive Christian activists in the United States who want to see immigration reform and action from the Obama administration before the year is out.

Based in Baltimore, LIRS is one of the nation’s leading agencies in welcoming and providing advocacy for refugees and other immigrants. It works on behalf of the ELCA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

US President Barack Obama “has made encouraging statements about the need to overhaul our immigration system,” the statement said.

“Our faith tradition of love, justice and mercy compels us to seek reforms that promote family unity, protect human rights and create an earned path to permanence that enables undocumented people to come out of the shadows,” it continued.

“Without these reforms, children will live in fear that their parents will be taken away, business owners will lose clients and churches will lose spiritual leaders. Reforming our immigration laws is not only good for immigrants, it is good for families, churches, businesses and communities,” the statement added.

The release of the statement -‘Postville, Iowa: One Year Later’ - marks the first anniversary of the largest ever US immigration raid.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents of the US Department of Homeland Security apprehended 389 migrant workers on 12 May 2008 at a meat processing plant in Postville.

The federal government spent more than US$5.2 million to conduct the raid, the statement said. Devastating ripple effects continue to impact upon every corner of the Postville community, it explained.

“Hundreds of families have either been separated by deportation or have left Postville. Others remain in legal limbo, waiting for the completion of their cases. Many businesses have closed, boarding up their windows. More businesses face bankruptcy. Decreased student enrolment will likely force the Postville schools to consolidate with other school districts.”

With regard to detention, “we remain concerned that it has become a one-size-fits-all solution for people apprehended in raids as well as other enforcement actions,” ECLA and LIRS declared. “Individuals are often sent to multiple detention facilities as they move through the immigration court system.”

For the 2009 fiscal year, ICE estimates that it will detain about 450,000 undocumented immigrants in hundreds of federal, state and local government and privately-run facilities, costing American taxpayers US $1.7 billion.

“Instead of spending nearly US$100 per day to detain individuals who pose no risk to the community, ICE could release them using bond, parole and other alternatives to detention, options that are more humane and use fewer taxpayer dollars.”

The statement concluded: “On the anniversary of the raid in Postville we are reminded that harsh enforcement measures put children at risk, divided families and drove other immigrants even farther into the shadows,” the statement said. “The raids threw an entire community into disaster and economic peril as a result of a failure to recognize that immigrants and refugees are integral to our communities and to America’s economic, cultural, social and political fabric.”

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