Pathway to Citizenship

Jul 31, 2022

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

There shall be one standard for you;
it shall be for the stranger as well as the native,
for I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 24:22

Last month, I and a number of religious leaders had a meeting with Senator Cornyn’s (R-TX) Legislative Assistant. The meeting was at Senator Cornyn’s office in the Hart Building in Washington D.C., but I participated via Zoom.

Senator Cornyn is a conservative Republican with a penchant for working across the aisle. He is a leading voice in the Republican party. We began by offering our thanks for several things. He was one of the crafters of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act following the shooting at Uvalde. He took a lot of heat from far right Republicans in Texas and even got booed from the stage at the Texas Republican Convention. It takes guts to reach across the aisle and do the right thing.

Senator Cornyn has also offered strong support for a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. He has pressed for continued efforts to achieve bipartisan bills. He has shown concern for attracting and retaining immigrant talent in the U.S.

Our goal was to thank, offer support and cover, and encourage more action on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society. Most religious leaders in Texas are of one mind about immigrants in our midst. We must protect them from abuse, both those who are documented and those who are undocumented. This requires a permanent legal solution. We have joined Amicus briefs, written letters, made statements, issued comments and alerts, engaged in national actions, and supported grassroots actions.

A pathway to citizenship remains our north star, and we are prayerfully and faithfully committed to significant progress towards permanent and comprehensive protections for our undocumented neighbors. As people of faith who believe in the inherent value of every human being, we are deeply troubled by the vulnerability of undocumented communities. Our faith calls us to uplift justice and compassion for all humanity. Now is the time for Congress to deliver on protections for millions of our undocumented neighbors — individuals whose sacrifices have ensured the posterity of America for generations, especially during the pandemic.

Now is the time for legal protection of DACA, TPS & DED recipients, essential workers, farmworkers and their loved ones. Faith leaders from seventeen states across the country called on their Senators to pass a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in 2021. 915 individuals and 195 faith-based organizations from over 40 states and Washington, DC signed a letter in 2021 to the Biden administration and Congress advocating for citizenship for essential workers and other immigrants.

Undocumented immigrants worship, study, and work alongside us. They make our communities and country stronger. They are parents, friends, coworkers, teachers, nurses, lawyers, scientists, and leaders.

Our action must recognize the worth and dignity conferred by our Creator, and not exclude or discriminate against anyone based on interactions with our nation’s racist criminal justice system. Instead, we’re hopeful that a package maximizes eligibility for relief, stabilizing the workforce, ensuring that families stay together, and our communities can thrive.

Essential workers have faced the most significant risks amid the pandemic. Countless immigrant members of our congregations have worked throughout the pandemic as essential workers, providing the basic goods and critical services which have helped us all make it through this terrible season. The Center for American Progress estimates 29,000 healthcare workers are DACA recipients, at a time when there is a critical shortage of healthcare workers. Immigrants are essential in many crucial industries.

A recent poll from Data for Progress shows that 67% of voters across party lines continue to support pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS and DED holders, farmworkers, and essential workers.

The dramatic militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border region has already stifled the economic vitality of U.S. border communities. Several cities across the Rio Grande Valley of Texas have adopted resolutions opposing a border wall, which would cost an estimated initial $21 billion, plus maintenance.

Ongoing challenges at the border are a direct result of a xenophobic and exclusionary immigration system. We cannot afford to politicize the plight and experiences of undocumented people with conversations about border security. Solutions for our undocumented neighbors cannot be conflated with a border security agenda. Forced removal of the undocumented is impossible and even if it were possible, would have a destructive effect on the economy. Fortunately, most U.S. citizens get this and oppose deportation. Most also reject the dehumanizing detention business. According to a recent PRRI poll, 80% of Americans back permanent legal status for undocumented immigrants.

A pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is projected to increase our gross domestic product (GDP) by $1.5 trillion, create 400,000 new jobs, and increase wages for American workers by $600. A path to citizenship can help increase individual earnings by 8 to 11%, leading to about a $21-45 billion increase in cumulative earnings over ten years. It’s a unique blessing when doing the right thing is also expedient.

Welcoming the stranger is a core part of Jewish tradition, mentioned at least 36 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is central to Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s letters.

…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

Matthew 25:31-46

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2

The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as citizens among you,
and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:33-34

I know people disagree about stuff. This is actually good. We need to be a community of moral deliberation – a place where people can talk about these things together, even when they disagree.

I hope that we can agree on care and compassion for those in the ditch. Having just read the parable of the Good Samaritan in worship in July, I do not want to be the priest or the Levite in the story, passing by on the other side. I do not want to be the person who checks immigration status before lending assistance. Might the church agree on loving and caring for the stranger in need?