The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori: On Immigration Reform

Presiding Bishop's Address on Immigration Reform

Brookings Institute, Washington DC

by The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori


Christians understand that we are all aliens and sojourners, seeking our home in God. In a spiritual sense, we are all migrants. As Americans we are a nation of immigrants. All of us, even Native peoples, originated as the human species evolved in Africa, and humanity has been migrating for tens or hundreds of thousands of years ever since. That migration is a persistent movement in search of food, shelter, safety, employment, and even adventure and discovery.

The current crisis of immigration policy in these United States stems primarily from economic and resource imbalances, and an exodus from poorer nations unable to sustain adequate opportunities for growing populations. That imbalance is complicated by violence (both terrorism and the drug trade), as well as currently reduced employment opportunities within the United States.

Most Americans recognize the failure of our current migration policies, but there is a wide range of preferred solutions or appropriate political responses. The passage of Arizona's identification law is the most recent expression of our national political failure.

The Episcopal Church has repeatedly expressed its position on immigration issues from a theological perspective. That theology begins in the biblical charge to love God and to love one's neighbor as oneself. The alien or foreigner is among the neighbors to be regarded with love and justice. Hebrew scripture repeatedly directs the faithful to "care for the alien and sojourner in your midst." "You shall love the stranger, for you were also a stranger in the land of Egypt" (Dt 10:19). That sense of having the shared experience of migration and being a foreigner opens us up to the shared reality of all humanity, and motivates us to find all sorts of partners who also understand that shared reality. It is a central way in which the religious motivation engages the political.

Theological responses to issues of migration are also based in Jesus' mandate to care for the "least of these" - the hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, unemployed, oppressed, and imprisoned. Anyone experiencing those realities is alienated from the state of healed and whole reality that we speak of as the kingdom of God - that ancient prophetic vision of a world of justice and peace often called shalom. Those who experience such alienation are also migrants, sojourners in search of healing and wholeness.

The Episcopal Church has been involved in work with refugees and migrants in a formal way since 1940, with the advent of Episcopal Migration Ministries. Today we resettle 4000-5000 migrants a year, in partnership with the federal government and local community agencies. We know something about successfully integrating newcomers.

The Episcopal Church is not only an American church. In addition to the United States, we have congregations in 15 other nations, from Taiwan and Micronesia to Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Within the United States, our congregations include more than 300 serving Latino immigrant communities - it is one of our fasting growing demographics - as well as immigrants from Sudan, Korea, Liberia, Vietnam, Haiti, Philippines, Taiwan, Laos, and a number of other nations.

Our historical partnerships and covenant relationships with other Anglican churches around the world inform and challenge us to build just political systems in many nations. We strive to see that all human beings are treated with dignity and respect, whether they are Filipino guest workers in Saipan, migrant Latino farm workers in the United States, or Sudanese, Bolivian, and Afghani migrants in the city of Rome. Our congregations address the needs of these and many other groups of sojourners and immigrants.

The current thrust of our immigration advocacy work seeks dignity and justice for all. Our priorities are to provide legal entry opportunities for those seeking to respond to needs for labor, to normalize the status of aliens already present and to provide routes to legal residency or citizenship, to reunify families, and to equalize the burden of enforcement so that it is humane and proportionate, all of it in the context of secure borders and reduced levels of fear and violence.

As a church, we are troubled by the impact of current immigration policies. On Good Friday this year in Phoenix, local police stationed outside a church with a large Latino membership prevented of those people from worshiping. We note the fear engendered by raids on workplaces - children live in fear on whether or not their parents will be there when they come home from school. We are hampered as a church by an inability to find adequate numbers of effective leaders for immigrant congregations.

The bishops of our church are scheduled to meet in Arizona in September, a meeting that has been planned for a couple of years. At present, we are committed to proceed with that meeting, both as a way of expressing solidarity with the Latino community, and in exposing the community of bishops to realities on the border. A number of those bishops will be temporary sojourners whose primary ministry is in another nation, and some are themselves immigrants to the United States. Members of the group will be at some hazard themselves of being required to identify themselves while in Arizona. We hope to make an on-site witness, through learning and accompaniment, as well as to express our concerns as a Church.

The Episcopal Church seeks justice, dignity, and equality in these matters, and we will partner with any and all who share those values and priorities.

[Taken with permission from the website of The Episcopal Church.]