On its final evening (July 6), the 220th General Assembly approved a long list of recommendations intended to show the church’s solidarity with immigrants and refugees in the United States. A number of those recommendations affirm actions of previous General Assemblies.
Commissioner Joann Lee, moderator of the Assembly on Immigration Issues, said the committee changed language that reflects an “us” and “them” mentality to language that “reflects the reality that our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) includes persons, churches and mid-councils that are predominantly immigrant.”
Lee placed all 12 of the committee’s business items, most of which were approved unanimously in committee, on the consent agenda. Two items were then pulled from the consent agenda by commissioner David Ofori Jr. (New York City Presbytery). Ofori attempted to make amendments that would assist multicultural congregations without pastors by setting up pastoral exchanges to provide them with immigrant pastors and by enabling overseas theological institutions to offer courses in Presbyterian polity. Both amendments were voted down.
Commissioner Chris Romig (Presbytery of Peace River) worried that language expressing support for the DREAM Act might be too political in an election year. But commissioner Annie Rawlings (New York City Presbytery) insisted, “This is more than a political issue. It’s a human issue. What is happening to immigrants in this country is a moral catastrophe.”
Included on the consent agenda was an overture from the Presbytery of Grand Canyon calling for rescinding an action by the 219th General Assembly (2010) that forbids national meetings from being held in states with immigration laws similar to Arizona’s SB1070.
During the committee’s discussions, Debra Avery, an overture advocate from Grand Canyon Presbytery, had said that the 2010 action resulted in “unintended consequences” for Arizona Presbyterians. “Some felt the greater church had abandoned them in their time of need” when it approved what seemed like a boycott of their state, Avery explained.
But others expressed concern that people attending church meetings in states with stringent immigration laws might be subject to racial profiling and harassment. Although the U.S. Supreme Court struck down much of the Arizona law in June, it upheld a section that requires police to check the status of anyone they suspect is not in the United States legally.
The Assembly voted not to rescind the action of the previous Assembly.
Among other things, the approved recommendations call for:
- Affirming the scriptural call to provide hospitality to and justice for immigrants, regardless of status
- Continuing to advocate on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform
- Actively advocating for legislation such as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) that offers hope for young immigrants by providing a pathway to citizenship
- Directing the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness to make immigration reform one of the top policy issues in its work
- Urging the U.S. government to end policies such as Secure Communities, a program of the Department of Homeland Security, because of concern that the program has led to racial profiling, lack of due process and violations of human rights related to the arrest and detention of immigrants
- Advocating for passage of the Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act (HR 3590) to prevent deportation of Christians and others who have fled Indonesia to avoid persecution
- Encouraging presbyteries to create cross-cultural ministry teams and immigration issues task forces
- Calling on congregations to build relationships with immigrants and refugees and to learn about the gifts they have to offer
- Incorporating stories from churches engaged in ministry with immigrants into times of worship and sharing at next year’s Big Tent event and at the 221st General Assembly (2014)
- Developing worship and study resources based on “Being Church Together,” an immigrant ministry program of the Waldensian Church in Italy