Arizona, immigration and the need for federal action

I read with great interest the remarks of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, encouraging church leaders to preach on immigration reform as an issue of justice. She’s right, and it could have an important effect.

After all, religious leaders have long spoken out for reform, but many of the people in the pews (and in the polls) have yet to hear the message!

This week on Interfaith Voices, we focused on immigration, Arizona style. I interviewed an Episcopal priest from Tempe, Ariz., the state where a new immigration law has ignited a fiery debate about immigration policy nationwide. It says that police officers statewide cannot ignore people they encounter in their work about whom they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being here illegally. Some people call it the “papers, please!” law.

The priest is the Rev. Glenn Jenks, and has been working with the immigrant community in Arizon for 30 years. I asked him directly how often immigration is the subject of preaching. “I do it,” he said. “But in general, how often?” I asked. “Not very often,” came the answer. And he linked that lack of preaching directly with the polls in Arizona showing a majority in favor of the new restrictive (and probably unconstitutional) law.

The importance of this issue was underlined by the poignant interview I had with an undocumented immigrant woman, whom I called simply “Senora” to protect her anonymity. She lives in Phoenix, Ariz.

I asked her what effect she thought the new Arizona law would have on her life. She said simply, “It’s already having an effect. The other day, my 7-year-old son asked me, ‘Mommy, if they take you away, what will happen to me?’” Those who know the plight of the undocumented know that family separations are an everyday story in that community.

At the end of the interview, on her own initiative, “Senora” sent a personal message to President Obama, encouraging him to take action for immigration reform at the national level. We will make a special effort to get that message to the White House.
Essentially, Senora was preaching to the president; I hope he hears her message and acts.

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