As Presbyterians increasingly face legal and other issues around providing welcome and hospitality to immigrants, the Immigration Office of the Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has released a new resource for congregations titled, “Welcome and the Law.”
General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, has issued a letter to the church, commending the new resource. “I extend to you the invitation to discern how you might be called to accompany your neighbors,” he writes. “[This resource] will help begin to answer questions you have about the law and help guide your discernment. Please know that I am praying alongside you as you discern with your congregation or larger community about how God is guiding you to respond.”
“Welcome and the Law” addresses legal statutes governing encouraging, inducing, or bringing undocumented immigrants into the United States; transporting and harboring undocumented immigrants within the U.S.; and providing employment or employment services to undocumented immigrants.
It also outlines undocumented immigrant and churches behavior protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The full text of Nelson’s letter:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Loving our neighbors has always been a radical idea, and one we need constant reminder to realize. In their time of strife and living in fear, what is required of us when 11 million of our neighbors are at risk of deportation? In this time and place, how are we being called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God? This letter is for you, the church, as you discern God's call.
Many of our neighbors who are at risk of deportation have been in the United States for years, sometimes being here longer than in their native country. Many are our classmates, are our children’s classmates, are our co-workers, are our parishioners, are session members, are part of the very core of our communities. In these times, when their lives, family ties, and livelihoods are being threatened, we have an opportunity and responsibility to understand and respond to the fear and anxiety of our neighbors. Our neighbors traveled to a foreign land in search of protection, safety, and opportunity, and not in a selfish act, but one done to help their family and community. The Psalmist says in Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” The Lord has not forsaken them, but has offered us the opportunity to engage with and become aware of the larger family of God and extend God’s goodness and mercy. It is a privilege that our sisters and brothers live among us, teaching us that the world is richer than we can ever perceive and that God’s love is larger than we can ever imagine. We are reminded that in a community, we are required to care for one another. If one part suffers, then we all suffer, but when we lift each other up, we celebrate.
As a fellow member of the Presbyterian church, I extend to you the invitation to discern how you might be called to accompany your neighbors. Many of you are already calling and wanting to know what the law says about your plan of action and what are your rights. The denomination has created a new resource; one that will help begin to answer questions you have about the law and help guide your discernment. Please know that I am praying alongside you as you discern with your congregation or larger community about how God is guiding you to respond. And as you think about how you may radically love your neighbor in their time of need, know the denominational offices will be holding you up. Share your stories of response and action so we can share with the larger body. Inform us of the hurting and the celebration. Together, we can inspire change. Along this journey, when we “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow,” we become the beacons of God’s light that burns brighter when we are all a part of God’s work and witness.
The Reverend Dr. J. Hebert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)