ELCA Head Backs Immigration Reform Now

The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has voiced his support for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform this year.

In a July 13 pastoral letter to the 4.6 million-member ELCA, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said that although issues surrounding immigration are "complex and not easily resolved," the biblical witness for reform is clear.

"The distinctions that so often divide humankind are overcome in Christ," wrote Hanson. "By grace through faith on account of Christ we are joined together in a radically inclusive community."

Noting that in the current political climate it is "understandable that people are wary of engaging this politically and emotionally charged issue," Hanson says that it would be "tragic if we withdrew as people of faith and our voices fell silent."

"We have an opportunity for evangelical witness to our faith in God who is present in the stranger and calls us to extend hospitality," he said.

The presiding bishop added that Lutherans in the United States are themselves descendants of immigrants, and that over half the ELCA's 41 new congregations are starting in immigrant communities.

"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is being renewed by the faith and witness of new and recent immigrants," he says.

Hanson further listed four "foundational values" of immigration reform that he would like to be followed in legislative proceedings, which include keeping families together, maintaining basic human and worker rights, helping immigrants "come out of the shadows," and seeking a path to permanence for immigrants.

The values were authored by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS),of which the ELCA is a part of.

Hanson's remarks come following President Obama's call earlier this month for lawmakers to tackle immigration reform before this year's elections – a feat that he says will take "courage and political will" as well as some GOP votes.

Leaders from various faith traditions have lauded the president's call, although support from politicians, both Democratic and Republican, has been few and far between.

As was the case with health care, Republican legislators have been staunch in their opposition to passing comprehensive reform and are instead focused on issues of border security and state sovereignty.

"As long as the federal government shows no interest in securing the border and no interest in internal enforcement to promote self-deportation, then states and localities will have to pick up the slack," Republican Corey A. Stewart of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors told the Washington Post recently.

Democratic governors who met at the White House over the weekend called the immigration reform a "toxic subject" during "such an important time for Democrats," according to the New York Times.

"Universally the governors are saying, 'We've got to talk about jobs,' " Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee told the Times. "And all of a sudden we have immigration going on."

One congressman, however, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) claims that immigration reform is imminently possible, and that 200 members of the House of Representatives are in support of the motion.

"I am very confident the House can act quickly on legislation," Gutierrez said Wednesday on C-SPAN. "We are still going to need Republican support ... We don't need a lot of Republicans, but you need some."

Under Gutierrez's claims, at least 17 more votes in the House would be needed to secure a majority in passing a bill.

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