PORTLAND – A group of religious leaders is calling on policy makers to keep Maine a welcoming place for immigrants.

Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland; Rabbi Carolyn Braun of Temple Beth El in Portland; Eric Smith, associate director of the Maine Council of Churches; and leaders of the Episcopal Church and Unitarian Universalist community spoke out Wednesday in response to more than 30 legislative and budget proposals that could affect immigrants and refugees.

Some proposals, such as an Arizona-style bill that would allow authorities to ask immigrants to prove their legal status, threaten the state’s open and welcoming reputation, they said.

“It is our obligation as a fundamentally prosperous nation to accept graciously and welcome strangers among us,” Malone said.

Malone, leader of the state’s nearly 200,000 Roman Catholics, said the church does not support illegal immigration or amnesty for people who come here illegally. But, he said, Jesus was part of “the archetypical immigrant family,” and welcoming the stranger is “a Gospel imperative.”

Braun said it also is important to Jews, who spent a significant portion of their history as strangers, and unwelcome.

“As people feel success and become citizens, their natural impulse is to forget that they were strangers,” she said. “When we welcome the stranger, we are better Americans, better people and better people of faith.”

Smith said, “The Bible is replete with examples of sojourners making their way to a new land,” and examples of people who were judged by how they received the newcomers.

The religious leaders signed on to what is known as the Maine Compact, a list of principles to guide a civil debate about immigration in Maine (www.mainecompact.com). One principle, for example, declares that “Maine should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill.”

The religious leaders did not single out any proposals as violating those principles, but said they wanted to declare their shared values as policy makers begin their discussions.

A group of business leaders endorsed the Maine Compact in February, citing a history of immigrant-built Maine businesses and the economic importance of immigrants as workers and as tourists.

Supporters of the compact, including the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project and the Maine Civil Liberties Union, cite statistics that say illegal immigrants accounted for less than 0.5 percent of the state’s workforce in 2008.

On the other hand, more than half of the nearly 40,000 legal immigrants in Maine in 2008 were naturalized U.S. citizens, according to statistics cited by the groups.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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