As Congress and the Administration move forward with comprehensive immigration reform, I hope they remember that people of faith have long called for an immigration system that upholds family unity.
We’re grateful that this week, the Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Mansholt, Bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), is giving a strong boost to our advocacy on family unity.
Bishop Mansholt contributed an important statement that gives context to yesterday’s House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security hearing, “The Separation of Nuclear Families Under U.S. Immigration Law.” His statement is part of a long tradition of many ELCA voices speaking up for fair and humane immigration reform, for which we’re thankful.
Today, the bishop will be participating in key House and Senate briefings on “Family Unity in the Legal Immigration System of the United States of America,” which LIRS is co-hosting along with numerous other rights and immigration organizations.
In his prepared remarks for the briefing, Bishop Mansholt has this to say:
While I am honored to be sitting here today at the invitation of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, I also know there are many religious leaders from other Christian denominations as well as from other religious traditions who could sit here and give voice to the same hopes and lift up the high value placed on the family. A basic tenet of religious belief and value is that of family unity, and that tenet is common all across the religious spectrum—from more conservative Christianity to mainline denominations and Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions.
The bishop further says:
The United States Congress is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an
immigration system that is fair, compassionate, and workable. As they are rewriting our
immigration laws, I plead with lawmakers to remember that the United States has a moral
imperative to ensure that our immigration system upholds the family as a central component to
American society. For the sake of our communities, society and economy, it is essential to both
safeguard and enhance the family-based immigration system in the United States.
In LIRS’s own statement for the record for “The Separation of Nuclear Families Under U.S. Immigration Law,” we make the following recommendations to Congress:
- Protect the ability of close family members of U.S. citizens (spouses, married and unmarried children of all ages, parents, and siblings) and legal permanent residents (spouses and unmarried children) to reunify.
- Provide for faster reunification for the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents by reclassifying them as immediate relatives.
- Make available unused and unclaimed family-based and employment-based visas and ensure that future unused visas are not wasted.
- Swiftly review, resolve, and process family visa backlogs, ending the hardships faced by families who remain separated.
- Allow the spouse or child of a refugee to bring their children to the United States or follow to join the spouse or parent who was originally awarded refugee status.
- Admit children who have been living under the care of a refugee awarded status if it is in the best interest of that child join the refugee caregiver in the United States.
- Raise the per-country visa limits from seven to fifteen percent of total admissions to reduce long wait times for certain nationalities.
- Provide due relief for surviving relatives of refugees and asylees and the surviving spouses and stepchildren of U.S. citizens.
- Ensure that families with children who become adults during the course of seeking visas are not subject to processing delays, and prevent delays for individuals whose family relationship or marital status changes while waiting for approval.
- Give the government authority to ameliorate hardship faced by families who might otherwise be forced apart by detention or removal from the United States.
If you’re curious to learn more on this topic, here’s a good resource with detailed information on “The Advantages of Family Based Immigration.”
It occurs to me that there’s no better way to close this post than to quote Bishop Mansholt, with gratitude, when he says: “Families being whole and healthy are of vital importance to Lutheran congregations and local communities. The love, commitment, and support of family are a great gift that creates purpose for individuals, is central to our faith, and grounds the very structure of our society.”