More than 75 Presbyterians in town for the denomination’s Big Tent event demonstrated their support of immigrants at the Indiana Statehouse Saturday afternoon (July 2).

Holding signs like “Jesus loves everyone, including the undocumented,” those gathered were reminded that Big Tent almost switched locations because of Indiana’s proposed immigration legislation, HB 1402.

“Presbyterians were able stop the most egregious part of the bill,” said the Rev. Tony Aja, coordinator of Hispanic/Latino Ministries for the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky.  Holding up a copy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s policy statement on immigration, Aja reminded the gathering that “Presbyterians stand with immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants.”

Cliff Kirkpatrick holding a sign at a demonstration.

Former General Assembly Stated Clerk shows his support for immigration reform.

Church leaders considered moving the Big Tent event from Indianapolis after the 219th General Assembly (2010) voted to “refrain from holding national meetings at hotels in those states where travel by immigrant Presbyterians of color or Hispanic ancestry might subject them to harassment due to legislation similar to Arizona Law SB 1070/HB2162. 

“The Indiana bill still contains objectionable language that we consider inhospitable and unjust toward immigrants,” said Gradye Parson, stated clerk of the General Assembly. “But it fell short of racial profiling.  We are here today to lift up publicly our policy on just immigration’ and “to stand with Whitewater Valley Presbytery for comprehensive immigration reform and against anti-immigration legislation.”

A diverse group of community and church leaders showed their solidarity and support for the PC(USA) public witness in support of immigrants.  Remembering what it was like to live through the Jim Crow laws, the Rev. CL Clay, President of Concerned Clergy in Indianapolis quipped, “We don’t want you to have you live through ‘Jose laws.’ We must take a stand now for the sake of children’s children’s children.”

Fred Diego, an Indiana University student, spoke of coming to America as two year old with his parents, who were undocumented immigrants.  After living in Indiana, going through the school system, and graduating from high school near the top of his class, he was not eligible for in-state tuition because of HB 1402 because of his undocumented status.  

People holding signs at a demonstration.

About 70 Big Tent participants gather at the Indiana capitol building to support immigration reform.

“This is why we are in support of the [federal] Dream Act,” said event organizer the Rev. Felipe Martinez, associate executive presbyter  for Whitewater Valley Presbytery.  “This national legislation would make an exception for those who go to high school here, or serve in the military. That’s why we need comprehensive reform. This state-by-state legislation isn’t working. Too much of it is based on fear.”

Those gathered stood in the shadow of  the George Washington monument at the Indiana Statehouse.  Engraved on one side of the monument were the words, “Cultivate peace and harmony with all religions.”

The Rev. Paul Seebeck is a communications associate for Communications and Funds Development assigned to Evangelism and Church Growth Ministries. He is a general assignment reporter for PNS during Big Tent.