Faith leaders from the across the nation lauded President Obama's call yesterday for Congress to take up a bipartisan effort to fix the country's immigration system, which he said "seems fundamentally broken."
Obama spoke on Thursday at American University in Washington, D.C., reiterating his commitment to immigration reform which he said has been "held hostage to political posturing…special-interest wrangling…and to the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics."
"The question now is whether we will have the courage and the political will to pass a bill through Congress, to finally get it done," Obama said, adding that without Republican votes, "we cannot solve this problem."
"We stand here today to call on our President to do everything in his power to maintain the integrity of our nation. Our core values and interests are at stake," said Lisa Sharon Harper, Executive Director of New York Faith and Justice, who was invited to attend President Obama's speech.
"The faith community will not let up," she added. "We see firsthand the brokenness of our system and its devastating effects on families across the country, and we will continue to be powerful advocates for comprehensive reform."
Church World Service (CWS) Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy Jen Smyers, who also attended the address, said that she was, "greatly encouraged to hear the President reiterate his commitment to work with Congress on a solution to our broken immigration system."
"We especially are heartened by his emphasis on the importance of family unity, his support for a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and his support for The DREAM Act," Smyers said.
Along with a call for bipartisanship, President Obama also commented on Arizona's notorious immigration law, saying that "given the levels of frustration across the country, this is understandable..[b]ut it is also ill conceived."
"Laws like Arizona's put huge pressures on local law enforcement to enforce rules that ultimately are unenforceable," the president said. "It puts pressure on already hard-strapped state and local budgets. It makes it difficult for people here illegally to report crimes -– driving a wedge between communities and law enforcement, making our streets more dangerous and the jobs of our police officers more difficult."
"We strongly agree with the President that Arizona's SB 1070 and similar initiatives in other states are ill conceived, and with his assertion that one clear national standard, not a patchwork of state and local rules, is what our nation needs," said Erol Kekic of CWS.
Kekic further urged the president to terminate such programs as the 'Secure Communities' initiative and 287(g), which obligate local police to enforce federal immigration laws, and to suspend the deportations of non-criminals until "humane immigration reform" is enacted.
Just hours after the president finished his speech, Obama administration officials were presented with a letter signed by over 600 leaders from evangelical and mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh traditions.
"As Americans and people of faith, we are strongly committed to the safety and security of our nation, policies that ensure economic prosperity, and fair labor practices for all workers," the group's letter reads.
The group further pressed the president to convene a bipartisan summit on immigration reform, similar to the one that was held for health care in February.
"We believe this summit is necessary for lawmakers to discuss common and differing viewpoints on structuring the legislation," they said. "It would also fulfill your pledge to all Americans to provide workable solutions that fix our broken immigration system."
The group's letter is part of a month-long effort that they've named "Justice July," which will include prayer and fasting vigils and sermons across the country highlighting the importance of immigration reform.
"We urge President Obama to vigorously advocate passage of comprehensive immigration reform this year," Dr. Diane Steinman, co-chair of the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform said in a statement.
"Our current system violates the moral values of our nation and of our nation's diverse faith communities," she added.
"Politics cannot be allowed to stand in the way of reform, and faith community leaders are prepared to be his partners in the effort."