We’re lucky to know leaders who are finding different avenues to spread hope, awareness, and understanding of immigration reform. Today, I’m honored to share the perspectives and work of Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer, Executive Director of Florida Council of Churches, and member of the Steering Committee of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins carried out the following interview by email.
Please join Rev. Meyer in the fight for fair and compassionate immigration reform and welcoming national policies! Beyond this interview, you can learn the latest about immigration reform legislation or take action.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What led you to become involved in immigration and immigrants’ rights?
Russell Meyer (RM): Since my wife is a naturalized citizen, I have first-hand experience with those who make the transition from their home culture to a new county. All throughout my ministerial career, I have been blessed by relationships with those who are foreign-born, so it’s natural and spontaneous now for me to speak up for my friends. Over the years, the real histories of the United States have become more important to me. In the case of my family, we were part of the Great Migration following the Napoleonic Wars and European famines that settled in the Great Plains. This country destroyed the native culture of the plains, and we’ve got a lot to do to restore just relationships with native peoples. That said, Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act and gave those European settlers free land from Oklahoma to the Dakotas. I grew up in Nebraska, which had the most homesteads. Much of the middle class today extends from what Lincoln did for immigrants in the 1860’s. That’s a real historical example of what a good immigrant policy looks like. I’m grateful for that policy and we need something like it today.
CP: How would sensible immigration reform affect those who might not have any connections to immigrants or migrants?
RM: Out of sight, out of mind, it’s said. So determining the cost of shadow communities to the rest of society requires keen and focused vision. The costs include excess policing and incarceration but also loss of potential contributions to the rest of society. The genius and dedicated industry of immigrants is lost. The exploitation of immigrant labor drives down wages for many other workers and deprives the economy of the tax and spending revenues that are generated by fair wages. And something that I have become more aware of in my ministry is the blessing that people with completely different life experiences bring to the table with their insights and solutions to the challenges of the day. The fact is that current immigration policy is a bonanza for law enforcement budgets and corporations that supply them. This money does not grow on trees; it comes straight out of our pockets. I think of it this way: every time we chase down an undocumented parent so that we can remove them from their children, we’re also letting dozens of other children go hungry in homes and schools around the nation. This is madness. So immigration reform restores some sanity to our society and strengthens the economy in multiple ways. Almost everyone benefits from better wages, stronger spending, happier children, and policing focused on violent criminals.
CP: How would comprehensive immigration benefit Florida as a whole?
RM: Florida is a highly diverse state that depends on growth, spending and a good international reputation. We need to welcome immigrants as well as retirees, high-tech jobs, and tourists. They each play a vital role in the health of our economy. Immigrant jobs help create other jobs. Bringing immigrant communities into the sunshine will translate into billions of dollars of economic activity, generating even more growth in the state. Moreover, as a global destination spot, Florida needs the US to establish immigration policies that clearly dismiss any kind of profiling as a possibility. We have more or less 100,000 DREAMers – children brought to the US without proper documents. Many of them are the best and brightest in our high schools. Reform will allow them futures that bless us all with their productivity. We’re also deporting 1000 persons per day – still! Those are often families we are breaking up. We’re generating long-term social disorder with the current policy. As a pastor, I cannot say strongly enough that we need to do everything possible to keep families intact. Destroying families is planting seeds of destruction into society itself.
CP: What actions have you taken to support immigrants in your community?
RM: My work encompasses national, state and local efforts. I help connect the Steering Committee of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition to state council of churches and ecumenical conferences. At the state level, the faith leaders of the Florida Council of Churches held press conferences and interfaith prayer services on behalf of welcoming the immigrant and stopping Arizona-type laws in 2010. Since then we have been an ally of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. We also tried to generate a Florida Compact, modeled after the Utah Compact. With current efforts, I have spoken at press conferences, rallies and prayer vigils around Tampa Bay and in the I-4 corridor. Most recently, the Miami Herald published my op-ed on excessive border security. Right now, I’m helping to plan an Interfaith Immigration Roundtable in Tampa Bay. We aim to bring a couple of hundred faith leaders together for a prayer breakfast with House representatives during the August recess. I also serve on the Bishop’s Immigration Task Force for Bishop Benoway who serves on the Ready Bench for Immigration Issues; we help to keep him informed on issues as they develop.
CP: What are ways fellow Floridians can advocate for immigration reform and welcome newcomers?
RM: Prayer for a person of faith always tops the list of things to do. Authentic prayers also generate sincere actions. So as we pray for elected officials to have open hearts and minds for immigrants, we also need to join immigrants in rallies and contacting our representatives with the message of God’s inclusive love. I believe every human being can come to embrace what God wills in their day and time. So we have to help both voters and elected officials see things from immigrant eyes and walk in immigrant shoes. A lot is made about not wanting to support lawlessness, and that is surely a worthy point. But U.S. Americans have always distinguished between just and unjust laws. People of faith have always understood that God’s law is higher than human laws. Immigration law is simply outdated and inadequate to our country’s needs. We pushed a global economy in the Americas and allowed money to flow freely but not people; we are the ones who broke the functionality of immigration laws. Pretending otherwise in order to sound righteous is simply righteous pretension, or worse. God’s law says that we can fix broken human laws and that we can forgive people who were broken in the process. Floridians everywhere need to be saying that clearly – it’s the hope every Christian lives by. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Stay up to date with alerts and act on them. See lirs.org and interfaithimmigration.org. And ask your pastor to preach on welcoming the immigrant. I’m available in Florida; contact me if you want to know more about what you can do.