July 4, 2013

Maine Voices: Society has moral imperative to support immigration reform

A measure before Congress makes needed changes, but an amendment to militarize our borders is disappointing.

By Rabbi Hillel Katzir and the Rev. Michael J. Seavey

As clergy, we are all called to honor not only our family and friends but also those we have not yet met.

Hebrew Scripture teaches love for the foreigner because "you were foreigners in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Christian Scripture reports that Jesus and his disciples were itinerants. When asked, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, a stranger who took mercy on a badly beaten man (Luke 10:25-37).

The Hadith reports that Mohammed urged his followers to "give glad tidings to the strangers" (2:389).

People from other nations have come to our country, to the state of Maine, to our cities, to our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. They bring with them gifts, skills, traditions and friendship. They also bring with them the burdens of what they left behind.

It is our moral obligation as religious leaders to serve, care for and protect all people regardless of where they are from or their citizenship status. But we cannot do this alone. We need the support of our government officials to help our immigrant brothers and sisters create the best possible lives for themselves and their families -- and, indeed, to create a richer community for our own selves and families.

We believe the best way to do this is to advocate for comprehensive reform of our immigration laws that relieves the suffering caused by our broken system.

Recently, we were joined by two dozen faith leaders from many traditions on a statement of support for fair immigration reform. We were in agreement that, at a minimum, a moral immigration policy would include the following elements:

A path to citizenship for those already in our country.

Work visas that allow employment and protect workers by guaranteeing fair wages and safe and healthful environments.

Access to medical care and education.

Access to the justice system and fair representation.

Protection for families and a way to keep parents and children together in this country.

The U.S. Senate recently voted to approve an immigration reform bill, and we are cheered that it contains many of these essential features. We are thankful to Maine's Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King for voting in favor of the bill and for their statements about the need to fix the system.

However, we are distressed by an amendment included in the bill that would further militarize our borders without regard for the human and environmental impact of such measures.

The amendment comes at a time when our border is more secure than it has ever been. Yet despite the ample evidence that our country does not need more border security, the new agreement would focus ample precious resources on further security measures. This amendment strikes us as mean-spirited and harmful.

Others find fault with the amendment, too.

After the June 24 vote on the amendment, Sen. Collins said, "The amendment considered by the Senate tonight would deploy and station an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents along the southern border. This unprecedented surge is excessive, wasteful, and would be enormously expensive at an estimated cost of $25 billion to $30 billion."

And Sen. King said, "While I support efforts to better secure our border, the expensive $30 billion price tag to substantially increase border protection personnel is excessive."

We feel there are better uses of these billions than making our borders more weaponized and formidable.

We were also disappointed that the bill did not include Sen. King's proposed amendment to improve assistance to refugees and allow asylum seekers to obtain work permits, without waiting periods, while their asylum applications are being processed.

Recently, we read in this paper the story of Dr. Jean Michel Kayumba, a physician from Congo, and his wife, an engineer, who are seeking political asylum. Because they were barred from working during the first six months that their asylum applications were processing, the couple struggled to house and support themselves while waiting to be eligible to work.

As the immigration bill moves in the House, we call on our elected officials to reject the unnecessary and dehumanizing measures of the excessive border security provisions, and to add protections for refugees and asylum seekers.

As religious leaders in Maine, we stand united in our call for comprehensive immigration reform. We look forward to the passage of a bill that protects our friends, our neighbors and those we have not yet met.

Rabbi Hillel Katzir of Auburn is the leader of Temple Shalom Synagogue. The Rev. Michael J. Seavey of Portland is a Catholic priest and member of Interfaith Worker Justice Southern Maine.

 

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