Ecumenical leaders meet with Obama to discuss immigration

(Photo: Reuters / Jason Reed)U.S. President Barack Obama participates in his first cabinet meeting of his second term in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, March 4, 2013.

Ecumenical leaders were among a small group of faith leaders who attended a private meeting with President Baraxk Obama Friday to discuss immigration reform.

Rev. Kathryn M. Lohre, president of the National Council of Churches, and Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the United Methodist Church joined 12 other religious luminaries at the White House to urge for the passage of a commonsense immigration reform in Congress.

The faith leaders represented mainline Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, and Mormon churches and Judaism, Hinduism and Islam.

"I am here representing 37 Protestant and Orthodox churches, or 45 million Christians, including - I dare say - you, Mr. President," said Lohre, eliciting a smile from the president. 

The NCC president urged Obama to seize a "kairos" moment for comprehensive immigration reform, saying there was opportunity for the "faith community to play a significant role."

"We must continue our work to educate, inform, and inspire people in the pews to put political pressure on their elected leaders to enact comprehensive immigration reform," Lohre said in a statement. "Then we must adamantly continue the work of welcoming the stranger in our midst as a faithful response to God in Jesus Christ."

The closed-door meeting comes as a bipartisan group of senators are working on a comprehensive immigration bill.

Faith leaders expressed concern on how the broken immigration system is affecting families throughout their congregations. 

Lohre emphasized that the balance between family-based and employment-based visas would need to be observed to protect the unity of families. The NCC recently released a policy statement in support of the DREAM Act. 

The President reiterated his commitment to supporting a bill that would include a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, according to a White House statement. Obama also emphasized the bill would include measures to crack down on employers who game the system and exploit both American and immigrant workers, continuing to strengthen our border security, and strengthening the legal immigration system for families, employers, and workers.

"Immigration reform is a moral issue we all share in common," Bishop Carcaño told United Methodist News Service.

"During the meeting, the president emphasized that comprehensive immigration reform was a high priority for him, and he asked us as faith leaders to continue to push for it."

Evangelical leaders who have been encouraging their congregations to reflect on the Bible's message on how to treat their immigrant neighbors emerged from the meeting with Obama more hopeful on immigration reform.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the meeting invigorated him with "hope and optimism."

"I am convinced that with prayer and prophetic activism we will live out Matthew 25 and welcome the stranger in the name of Jesus," he said in a statement.

"The faith community has called for political action on immigration for years and is encouraged to see the leadership the president is taking," commented Rev. Jim Wallis, president of the progressive magazine Sojourners. "President Obama made clear how high a priority immigration reform is for him and the White House and that the involvement of the faith community will be an integral part of ensuring it passes."

At the conclusion of the meeting, the religious leaders prayed for the President and the immigration reform effort, pledging to continue to working together on putting the immigration reform issue before Congress.

The 14 faith leaders who attended the meeting included:

• Rev. Kathryn Lohre, National Council of Churches
• Bishop Minerva Carcaño, United Methodist Church
• Leith Anderson, National Association of Evangelicals
• Stephan Bauman, President and CEO, World Relief
• Rev. Luis Cortés, President, Esperanza
• Barrett Duke, Southern Baptist Convention
• Bishop Orlando Findlayter, Senior Pastor, New Hope Christian Fellowship
• Archbishop José Horacio Gomez, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
• Mark Hetfield, President and CEO, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
• Imam Mohamed Magid, President, Islamic Society of North America
• Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
• Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
• Dieter Uchtdorf, Second Counselor, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
• Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners

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