Immigration: Pastoral Letter to the Churches

Pastoral Letter to the Churches
From the Dialogue of the Americas on Faith, Economy and Migrations Quito, Ecuador – November 29th – December 1st 2013

Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA


The Dialogue of the Americas on Faith, Economy and Migrations brought together the ecumenical leadership from Latin America and North America to look critically and theologically at the issues of economy and migration, and the role of faith and the churches in these contemporary matters which affect the global community. There were 47 participants in the conference, representing 17 churches, 18 ecumenical organizations from 11 countries in Latin America and North America. The conference was co-sponsored by the Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias (CLAI) and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC-USA) to collaborate jointly on addressing the issue of migration which is of concerns to the churches in the region.

While the focus for the conference was on the relationship between North American and Latin American countries, the group realized that there are broader implications for the dialogue and the need for on-going dialogue and collaboration between the faith communities in the region. Over two days, the group listened to presentations, participated in discussions and was in agreement that migration, though necessary and a historical process, continues to be a challenge for sending and receiving countries as policies and attitudes continue to evolve globally, especially when migration is caused by an unjust economic system that globally continues to transfer richness from the global south to the global north.

The process of global migration is particularly challenging for women and children who face the cruelest consequences of migration including sexual trafficking and slave labor practices. In addition, large numbers of indigenous persons are also moving as their land and traditional avenues for economic sustainability are taken from them. These are vulnerable populations that continue to be exploited as they seek a better life for themselves and for their families. The oppression that is a push factor for many as they leave countries of origin become present in other forms as they travel, some without documentation, many leaving home and the family behind for the unknown.

Churches can no longer be silent as violence, economic hardship, the desire for freedom and a better life result in the exploitation of millions who have to cross borders daily. The message from Quito is a firm one: The church is a church of migrants. Jesus as a migrant is an image for the church today, as the church rallies for the rights of migrants everywhere. All are created in the image of God and should have access to the abundance of resources that are present everywhere.

In the midst of the challenges presented by migration, the churches have the opportunity to play an active role with migrant communities. Churches must be a place of

safety and an advocate for justice on behalf of all communities, especially the migrants among us. Churches must be places of recovery and integration to receive migrants, as they seek to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

History and Need for Migration

Migration is not a new phenomenon. People have been crossing borders for many years and for a variety of reasons. In the Bible migrations are caused for a variety of reasons: economic, social, political and also religious reasons and we also find massive migrations. During colony times the displacement of huge numbers of people from Africa to use them as slaves created a horrible trade system that generated a major problem and we still live the consequences of that inhumane situation. More recently, due to globalization, there is even more movement of people across borders and more people experiencing economic and political displacement, some moving voluntarily others involuntarily. The involuntary migrations come from the violence of war as well as the hardship created by the imperial economic systems that make huge profits from taking lands and exploiting poor people.

The Bible challenges us to welcome the stranger. Many migrants find themselves facing racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination coupled with violence as they move across the Americas and the world in search for means to feed their family and have access to the freedom in which they desire to live.

There are a large number of refugees due to war and economic deprivation. There are also people who are escaping natural and social disasters which are increasing in the midst of global climate change. Flooding, earthquakes and landslides are creating as much displacement as the deforestation of forests and strip mining of communities by multinational conglomerates.

The emphasis on migrant remittances as a way to grow the Global National Product (GNP) of their original countries is a false premise. There are countries that use this myth to justify their immigration policies as a mean of recovering the structural problem of poverty, unemployment and economic weak fundamentals such as unjust taxation, foreign debt and transnational corporate interests.

The economic unfair relations created by the Neoliberalism ideology are the reasons for extensive displacement of people everywhere. Those economic relations provokes impoverishment of regions and feeds inequalities around the world, maintaining a few with almost all the socially produced wealth and a huge majority with almost nothing. This unequal distribution of the world’s wealth is one of the reasons why the poor people in the world must seek for new places to live.

Migration is predicated on hope. Hope is rooted in their desire to take the risk to live in a place where they may not know the language, the traditions and the culture. The desire for different and perhaps better conditions of life continues to motivate men, women and children

to leave the known for the unknown, in the hope that the new location will provide their basic needs. Migrants are motivated by hope for better wages – or in some cases a wage. Migrants hope for financial freedom. Migrants hope for freedom. Migrants hope for peace – away from the violence of war and political strife. Migrants hope for food to feed their families. Migrants hope for the ability to care for and provide for their families.

Churches must stand united with migrants to bring about change to immigration policies and practices that continue to be pervasive across borders and create hardship and the perpetual exploitation of the many who are created in the image of God.

Theological Framework

The entire earth is for the entire humanity with the need and the right to move and migrate globally as wanted or needed. “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:27-28). Every human is God’s creature, created in God’s image. The earth is given to humanity to share and enjoy God’s blessings and grace. As a result, human mobility is a right granted by God to all. Any intent to restrict this right goes against God’s will.

From the very beginning of God’s calling to Sarah and Abraham, human mobility is present in the biblical narratives. (Genesis 12:1). Human beings move to new places from a variety of reasons such as hunger (Genesis 46), political persecution (Exodus 2), violence (Mat 2:13ss), slavery (Exodus 12-14), to preach God’s good news (Apostle Paul), or looking for a new place to live (Genesis 12).

In most cases, the migrants arrived to a new society in a situation of vulnerability and because of that many laws and teachings in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures insisted on the protection of the foreigners (Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Deuteronomy 10:18-19) and many narratives speak about hospitality (Genesis 18, Ruth, etc.). The same tone is found in the New Testament where the Christian community is exhorted to welcome one another (Romans 15:5-7) and especially welcome the stranger (Hebrew 13:1-3).

The Biblical narrative also bears witness to Jesus as a migrant. The story of Mary and Joseph as told in Matthew and Luke is one of a family that has to move for political and economic reasons. In the aftermath of the birth of Jesus, the family flees to Egypt as the massacre of children continues and they fear for the life of the baby Jesus. The family is later able to return to the land of origin to live. The threat of death in the face of political oppression is still the reality for many global citizens.

In these texts, there is a double dimension to hospitality; first it is an action of compassion to those in need and secondly it is an opportunity to be enriched by the presence of others with their own experiences, and stories: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to

show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:1-2, NRSV).

Churches are called to affirm the right of every human being to move to find a better place to live, to affirm the welcoming of strangers, and seek to overcome the economic injustice, devastation of environment, violence, persecution and insecurity that force people to leave homes and families.

Migrants Roots and Conditions as a Challenge to the World

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor, he went down to Egypt and lived there as an alien” (Deuteronomy 26:5).

Many migrants are not welcomed in their receiving countries. Their desire for work is met with mistreatment and low wages as they are exploited by employers. The abuse of migrants is rampant in some cases leading to the enslavement of people, living in unsafe housing conditions, and experiencing violence – even death. The migrant is not a menace but a gift of God. The Church believes everyone is on a journey to the new Heaven and new Earth and do not need a particular status. People who are moving in the world, looking for a better life, should not be consigned as illegal, but should be recognized as exercising their human rights.

Migrants have faces. They are families looking for a good place to live. They are children suffering in crossing borders. They are women looking for jobs opportunities, safety and welfare. They are men who are seeking a peaceful place to live together with their families. Migrants contribute significantly to their country of destination and oftentimes are also supporting families in their countries of origin.

The well-being of every human being is at the heart of God’s action in favor of humanity. The liberation of peoples from oppression is a paradigmatic action from God in favor of the oppressed. The prophets raised their voices to transform the causes of injustices in their own places and time. Jesus himself cared about people’s daily needs for food, healing and inclusion. The Christian community is called to do the same.

Every time the churches welcome a migrant in their communities, they are proclaiming the very presence of God’s will in their midst. Every time churches engage in action to transform the causes of injustice, hunger, persecution, etc., they are celebrating and glorifying the God “who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry; […] sets the prisoners free; […] opens the eyes of the blind. […] lifts up those who are bowed down; […] loves the righteous. […] watches over the strangers; […] upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” (Psalm 146:7-9, NRSV) Every time churches open their ears to the voices of strangers, they recognize themselves and others as creatures made in God’s image.

The Church, as the assembly of believers in Christ, must continue to reject all forms of discrimination that diminish the human dignity of migrants. Churches must continue to encourage a deep meaningful friendship, a dialog, and a peaceful relationship that is the foundation of a civilized world, and reject policies that create walls against migration. Churches must continue to denounce the injustice of human trafficking and the voices and acts of xenophobia that contaminates public discourse, opting instead to receive migrants as a gift from God. Churches must be builders of universal citizenship.

A Call to Action to the Christian Churches

The leadership gathered in Quito recognized the on-going need for action and advocacy with the global migrant community. Women, children and indigenous people continued to be displaced, violated and exploited by economic and political systems that continue to freely move capital but seek to restrict the movements of peoples in ways that create the mechanisms that profit from exploitation.

The challenges facing residents of Latin America and the Caribbean as they attempt to migrate to North America and Europe in search for economic and political freedom are documented by human rights organizations, the United Nations and other representatives and agencies from church, government and civil society. Churches must continue to find their place and exercise their prophetic role in the midst of this global crisis.

Churches are called to:

  • educate denominational leadership on theology, ecclesiology and socio-economic factors that contribute to the push and pull of migration
  • share power in leadership and appoint immigrants in executive positions in an equal and empowered shared leadership structure
  • address continuing problems of racism/classism/sexism and how these systems of oppression impact migrant communities
  • invite church leaders from CLAI and the NCC to sign-on a couple of documents: The World Council of Churches document “Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders;” and the Churches Witnessing with Migrants document “The Intersections of Migration, Human Rights and Development Justice.”
  • participate more actively in integrating immigrants into society respecting and valuing the cultures of migrants communities
  • attend to the needs of migrants communities given special attention to migrant women, indigenous peoples and African descendants communities of migrants
  • explore the possibilities to create a Forum of faith, economy and migrations to give continuity to the relationships created within the Dialogue of the Americas, in order to monitor migrant situations within the churches in connection with existing organizations and to advocate for migrants rights.

• explore the possibilities to create an Ecumenical Observatory of Migration Advocacy and Accompaniment to develop a praxis of companionship and advocacy regarding migrants.

• adopt an ecclesiology with the ability to interact with civil society in such a way that, those structural changes become reals and transformative

Actions Proposed by the Participants in The Dialogue of The Americas…

The group gathered in Quito also discussed three concrete situations in the region raised by some participants. The concrete situations were connected with the Haitian immigrants who are denied citizenship in the Dominican Republic; the challenges facing 11 million plus undocumented immigrants in the U.S.; and the inequity of U.S. immigration policies that privilege some migrant groups over others. In each of these cases, there is the need for immigration reform that will provide dignity for all God’s people. After a period of reflection and discernment the group approved the following actions:

1- Haitian Immigrants in the Dominican Republic

Haitian immigrants in Dominican Republic continue to be denied citizenship in the due to the implementation of the Sentence 168-2013 of the Constitutional Court of that country. The sentence denied Dominican citizenship to the children of Haitian immigrants in transit born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 (in transit means that they didn’t have documents). This sentence affects three generations of Dominicans with Haitian parents. As a result Haitians in the Dominican Republic are unable to further their education, seek gainful employment and participate as full citizens. Many live in poor housing and find themselves in generational poverty exploited in the farming and industrial sectors. Rev. Nilton Giese, General Secretary of CLAI, shared the letter CLAI sent to the president of the Dominican Republic requesting his interest and action to stop the application of this sentence.

The participants expressed their prayers and solidarity with those who are suffering as

a result of this situation and affirmed their support of CLAI’s official letter to the president of the Dominican Republic requesting stoppage of the application of the Sentence 168-2013.

2- Undocumented Immigrants in the United States of America

The United States of America has 11 million undocumented immigrants who are demanding a Comprehensive Immigration Reform. This subject is still waiting to be included in the agenda of the Congress for discussion. Several participants from the USA mentioned that these 11 million people who have been living in the shadows for many years deserve fair treatment and the opportunity to obtain the documents that may provide a clear path to USA citizenship.

The participants expressed their prayers and solidarity with those who have been and

are still living in the shadows in the USA and suffering discrimination, exploitation and persecution; whose rights to access higher education have been denied and whose families have been divided through deportations. Participants respectfully urge the Congress of the United States to approve a Comprehensive Immigration Reform and invite the ecumenical organizations who sponsored this event to work in coordination to send this request to the proper persons and offices in the USA.

3- Fair and Equitable Immigration Policies

The Cuban Adjustment Act, Public Law 89-132, gives special treatment to Cubans who arrive to the United States without any documents. This Law stimulates irregular travel between Cuba and USA and puts at risk the lives of innocent people. It further privileges Cubans over other in the region who are routinely denied access and assume risks that endanger their lives.

The participants conveyed their prayers for the innocent people who are risking their

lives to take advantage of this regulation. They also expressed their concerns that this law may be part of the political game between these two countries. This law as well as any future immigration policy should be part of a more comprehensive conversation toward the normalization of the relations between Cuba and the USA.

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