Concern for the widow, orphan, and alien are values shared by faith traditions around the world. Recently in Texas, people of several different faiths came together to emphasize their commitment to welcoming the sojourner and immigration reform. I’m honored to bring you an interview with Rev. Mary Lenn Dixon, a strong advocate for immigrants in College Station, Texas. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the interview over email.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What at personal experiences led you to become interested in immigration?
Rev. Mary Lenn Dixon (MD): My ministry assignments have made me aware of the needs of our local immigrant community, but my own personal experience related to this came when I spent a year in France as a graduate student doing research. Most of my friends were also foreigners, most from North Africa, and I became aware of the way they were treated. I experienced first-hand the difficulty of negotiating daily life when I was only beginning to learn the language, the customs, even the cuts of meat (which were different than I was used to). I knew homesickness, anxiety, and what it was like to be different – even while I thoroughly appreciated the experience of being there. I think all that sensitized me to the personal dimension of immigrants’ experience in this country.
CP: You recently participated in an Interfaith Prayer Service for Compassionate and Comprehensive Immigration Reform in College Station, TX. Eighty people attended the event. What was the highlight of the event?
MD: Actually, I underestimated the attendance – our interns counted 94 people there! Two highlights stand out for me: (1) the truly interfaith nature of those who responded and agreed to serve – Muslim and Jewish as well as our Christian brothers and sisters, and (2) the moving reading in Spanish of “An Alien’s Prayer” by Edward Hays (from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim) by one of our leaders from a Roman Catholic parish with a high immigrant membership.
CP: A host of different faiths were represented at the gathering: Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, Episcopal, Baha’i, Unitarian, Catholic, and UCC. How does immigration reform unite these different faiths?
MD: As Lutheran Bishop Mike Rinehart of Houston said very eloquently in a sermon now online:
All our traditions, show a remarkable concern for the widow, the orphan and the alien. All of our Scriptures enjoin us to love the stranger and care for the sojourner in our midst.
Moreover, several of the faith communities that participated have a number of immigrants or temporary residents among their members. The representative of the Baha’i faith told us that several members of their small congregation are political refugees. So the participants from these various faiths had both theological and practical reasons for commitment to immigration reform.
CP: You are a leader on this issue. How else are you supporting immigrants and reform?
MD: Our organization, Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network (BIIN), has twice-weekly information and referral services, where we try to provide information, networking, translation services, and follow-up casework as we can. This summer, in conjunction with the Episcopal outreach network here, we offered citizenship classes, and for a couple of years we have supported English as a Second Language classes taught at our partner organization, the Bryan Public Library. We work with Catholic legal services to support paperwork for immigration and citizenship applications for those eligible under the Deferred Adjudication arrangements. And we’re continuing to try to find ways to support the local immigrant community in developing resources for workers’ rights.
CP: Do you find that College Station is receptive to your efforts and immigration?
MD: This is a hot-button issue here, as elsewhere. We are exploring ways of raising understanding of the need for immigration reform, but we especially try to invite people to respond to the Biblical injunction to welcome the stranger. By emphasizing the personal, relational aspects of immigration work, we try to find the issues on which people of faith can agree and unite – whatever their political stance on immigration. It isn’t always easy, and we know we won’t get 100% acceptance, but we believe that our educational efforts can be expanded in ways that will serve immigrants both directly and indirectly.