Presbyterians stage pro-immigrants public witness during Big Tent

Demonstrators oppose Indiana legislation, seek comprehensive reform

July 11, 2011

A group of people holding signs outside of a building for a demonstration.

Presbyterians hold their placards supporting immigration reform. —Photos by Danny Bolin


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.

  1. I have left the United Methodist, because of the Church's view of the Alabama immigration laws. I was considering trying the Presbyterian Church, however, after reading this, I don't think so.

    by robin thompson

    August 18, 2011

  2. If you want to learn the final outcome of illegal immigration, ask the American Indians how they feel about what has happened to their land since 1492.

    by Paul Talarico

    July 16, 2011

  3. I'm glad that a few of those attending The Big Tent Event made a statement by protesting the Immigration actions of the Indiana legilsature. I still regret that the GA did not move the event altogather given the overall actions of the state legislature and the Governor. The final action on immigration in itself ought to have been reason enough for a site change. However a catalog of other legislative actions should have provided yet other bases for a venue change: suppression of voting rights, restrictions on trade unions, funding of school vouchers and charter schools at the expense of public schools, defunding of Planned Parenthood, restrictions on abortion rights, limitations of rights of gays and lesbians, ETC. The list is shamefully long. In light of that legislative "catalog of sins" I elected not to attend The Big Tent Event though I had initially planned to do so as a retired Synod Executive from the Northeast now living nearby in Bloomington, IN.

    by Robert H. White, Jr.

    July 16, 2011

  4. Some people will not take low paying jobs; yet Presbyterians wuthout a job are not too proud to take these same jobs. What do you want, higlly paid Presbyterians or people who have a job they can do and want? How far and how big do you want the Presbyterian Tent to cover? Just your special people? Or even others who love God and want support from our Church? Even though they are not Presbterians? Do you know what a Presbyterian is?

    by Bill Skinner

    July 15, 2011

  5. I read the title and thought, "Who is against immigration?" Then I remembered this was at an official PCUSA event and realized it was really about illegal immigration. I don't know anyone against immigration so you may want to work on writing accurate titles to your articles. All nations of the world control their borders, deciding who should enter. The U. S. allows a huge number of legal immigrants each year. The U. S. also has a more generous system of immirgations than many other country.

    by Matt Ferguson

    July 12, 2011

  6. Of course Jesus loves all people, including illegal aliens. All of us should, but that does not mean we should condone their wrong-doing. I support immigrants who follow the law. However, I think it is an outrage that our PCUSA "leaders" encourage people to violate the law. I also think it is an outrage that the PCUSA in its self-righteousness believes it can blackmail states into doing its bidding. This hugh crowd of 75 malcontents does not represent this Presbyterian. No wonder we are losing thousands of members every year.

    by J. H. Thornwell

    July 12, 2011

  7. God bless Indiana for taking control of their state. Wouldn't it be great to let every human on Earth live in America, sadly that is as naive as the PCUSA. When did the PCUSA decide that they would be on the side of those on the wrong side of the law? Is it just Latinos that we are for amnesty, or what about the 9/11 terrorists? They were in the country illigally too.

    by Greg

    July 11, 2011