Family is the foundation of American society, and united families strengthen us as individuals and as communities. Tragically, many immigrant families remain separated for years — often decades — because of our severely broken immigration system. Bureaucratic visa delays can go on for more than 20 years before a relative can enter the United States legally.
Every day, within our congregations and across the nation, faith leaders see the devastating consequences for those who suffer from our unfair immigration policy. As people of faith, we respect all human life and acknowledge that everyone is worthy of dignity and compassion, as reflected in Genesis 1:28, which teaches that human beings are created in the image of God.
The Torah exhorts: “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). The New Testament urges us to welcome the stranger, for “what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40). As a religious community, we are bound to share with others what we experience firsthand, and to shine a light on the harsh and sorrowful truth of human suffering — especially when our voice may inspire the winds of change and help bring hope and love where there is now pain and despair.
Last month, 25 clergy and community leaders participated in a study tour of the San Diego-Tijuana border to learn more about the complexities and challenges of immigration reform. Our interreligious delegation united six diverse Jewish and Christian faith communities — Episcopalian, Jewish, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ — whose bishops and judicatory heads are members of the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders.
We stood at the border wall and listened to the voices of husbands separated from their wives, parents torn from their children, grandparents who yearned to hold their grandchildren once again. We toured the destitute community of Chilpancingo and felt the anguish of thousands who hope for nothing more than to reunite with their families in America. We met deportees at Casa de Los Pobres — parents and children who, by the grace of God, still smile and strum broken guitars, eager to fulfill their dreams for a brighter future.
In our final moments in Mexico, we stood where the ocean meets the sand, before the wall that stretches into the sea, and gazed at the San Diego skyline that seemed so close. We approached a man there who was staring through the wall and pacing. Just shy of 30 years old, he had come to the United States as an infant and lived in Los Angeles his entire life. He told us of his wife and two young children still in Los Angeles, and described the nightmare that began suddenly for his family the day he was cited for driving without a license. Several days later he was arrested by immigration officials at his place of business, placed in a detention facility and eventually deported to Tijuana. He has nothing in Mexico. His deportation marked the first time he ever visited the country of his birth. He plans to risk his life and attempt an illegal journey back, to reunite with his family and once again live in the shadows of America.
We call upon President Barack Obama and Congress to enact bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that embodies our shared values as people of faith and as Americans. Meaningful reform must include a path to earned citizenship for immigrants already in the United States, changes to family immigration laws and adjustment of quotas for future flows of immigrants, including high- and low-skilled worker visas. There must also be smart and humane enforcement measures that bolster our national security.
Soon, Jews across the globe will join family and friends at Passover seders and retell the ancient narrative of the journey from the narrow straits of Egyptian slavery to the broad vistas of the Promised Land. Soon Christians throughout the world will celebrate the Easter holiday, with its message of hope and resurrection. This Passover and Easter, share the stories of the immigrant experience past and present. Join the Council of Religious Leaders in “One Voice for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”
Rabbi Mark S. Diamond is regional director of AJC Los Angeles and president of the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders. The Rev. Felix C. Villanueva is conference minister of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ.