For most Americans, the holiday season that starts with Thanksgiving and culminates in the New Year celebration is a time of joy spent with family and friends. As we enter this holiday season, it is also important that we remember the millions of migrants and refugees for whom this season will be less than joyful because of policies that forcibly separate families and loved ones and prevent vulnerable people from receiving the protection they deserve, such as the unprecedented expansion of family detention, the denial of due process to mothers and children seeking refuge from Central America, and the lack of adequate funding to ensure protection for all migrants and refugees.
Throughout the past year, Lutherans across the country raised their voices along with other people of faith calling on Congress to fix our broken immigration system, end the inhumane detention of families, and ensure that all migrants have access to the legal protections that they deserve. Together we have borne witness to the horrors and excess of our immigration enforcement system by visiting immigration detention centers and facilitating visits to the border. Many Synods undertook mission trips to countries in Central America impacted by violence to see first-hand the push factors forcing children and families to flee their homes. Lutherans across the country wrote letters and made calls to elected officials, attended town hall meetings, organized prayer vigils, and wrote op-eds and letters in support of compassionate legislation that affirms the human dignity of migrants and ensures protection. Not least among these efforts, many of you opened your homes to migrant children as foster parents and accompanied mothers and their children to immigration court hearings.
Unfortunately, Congress failed to pass any legislation to fix the challenges that many migrants and their families face every day or protect children and families seeking refuge in the United States. The House of Representatives never considered the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill from June 2013 that addressed many aspects of our broken immigration system. Additionally, in the wake of a stark increase in the number of children and families from Central America seeking protection in the United States, the Obama Administration quickly opened three new detention facilities to hold newly arriving families. As LIRS has documented in our new report, “Locking Up Family Values, Again”, an update to our 2007 report “Locking Up Family Values: The Failure of Immigrant Family Detention” with the Women’s Refugee Commission, there is no humane way to detain families. We continue to work with the Administration to end this practice and expand the use of community-based alternatives to detention, which are far more humane and cost-effective.
As you know, President Obama committed last week to take steps to provide much-needed, temporary relief for millions of families currently suffering under our broken immigration system. The President should be applauded for taking action to protect family unity and ease the suffering of some undocumented men, women, and children in our communities and congregations. In addition, Congress still must reform our immigration system to ensure that migrants and refugees receive the compassion and justice that all God’s children deserve.
As Lutherans, we have been responding to God’s call to welcome the stranger through ministries of service and justice. LIRS believes that our immigration laws and policies should honor our history as a nation of immigrants and our shared values of freedom and justice for all. This holiday season is the right opportunity to celebrate our roots as an immigrant church and stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees.
The time to act is now!
LIRS is asking Lutheran congregations across the country to use this holiday season of Advent and New Year, kicked off by Thanksgiving (November 27, 2014 – January 5, 2015) as an opportunity to raise their voices for migrant justice and intentionally reach out to immigrants and refugees in your congregations and share the joys of the season in neighborly love. We also ask that you use this period to bear witness to God’s love for all people, and speak for and with those who are voiceless.
Create and strengthen relationships with migrants and refugees and all who love them this holiday season!
Below is a list of actions you and your congregations should consider taking during this holiday season of Thanksgiving, Advent and New Year depending on your capacity and the particular circumstances in your community:
- Contact the White House: Call and/or write the White House to stand with the President to promote family unity. As people of faith, we believe that family is the fundamental building block of strong communities. All families belong together regardless of immigration status. We must support community-based alternatives that are more cost effective and treat migrants with dignity and respect. Here is a sample letter you can use and modify in your own words. You can also call the White House directly through the comment line at (202) 456-1111 to urge the President to end excessive detention and deportation and that mothers and children fleeing violence and abuse in Central America deserve compassion, not confinement.
- Engage the Immigrants in your Community, Organize a Breaking Bread and Building Bridges Event: The holidays are a great opportunity to underscore the unique character of the U.S. as a nation of immigrants where new generations of immigrants often owe their survival to the generosity and welcoming spirit of earlier migrants. Breaking bread is a way of engaging your congregation to build and strengthen relationships between people from different cultures, and is an excellent way of organizing and bringing people together for a common purpose. Please consider organizing a “Breaking Bread and Building Bridges” potluck dinner to reflect about Lutherans’ special historic connection to immigration, and our mission to welcome newcomers. Invite new citizens to talk about what it means to become a newly naturalized citizen, and open your door to local immigrant rights groups so they can talk about immigration reform and opportunities for local action. The goal is to build stronger relationships between migrants and refugees in your congregation and community, and to form a better understanding of how current immigration policies are affecting the church and the entire community. Organizing a “Breaking Bread and Building Bridges” event is akin to organizing a community potluck party. All you need is a coordinating committee of friends and interested individuals from your congregation to organize and promote the event. It’s important that you reach out to impacted migrant communities for the event to be one that truly builds bridges.
- Join our Hope for the Holidays card writing campaign: Bring light and joy to children and mothers in family detention, separated from the love of their families, the support of their friends, and the comfort of their traditions this holiday season. Although a daily reality for many, the feeling of isolation and hopelessness become acute during the holiday season. Join LIRS in sending those in immigration detention messages of hope (in Spanish language) this holiday season. Invite your family to write cards at Thanksgiving, or friends at a fall potluck.
- Give the Gift of Family: Many children from Central America have fled persecution, have no family, and have an uncertain future. Bring a brighter and more secure tomorrow for these children who are seeking refuge in the United States by becoming a foster parent. It takes an open heart, acceptance, time, and a passion to nurture a child into a thriving, self-sufficient adult. You might welcome a child into your family for a few weeks or several years, which comes with challenges as well as joys. Most importantly, the child will be better equipped for the future and your life will be forever enriched. Please consider giving the gift of family.
- Contact Your Members of Congress: Let your Senator and representative in the House know that this holiday season you are thankful for all the contributions that migrants and refugees make in your community and that your faith teaches you to welcome the newcomer. Urge your Members of Congress to end the harmful practice of detaining immigrant families and support adequate funding for government agencies serving the needs of migrants and refugees. You can call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected with your representative or visit our online Action Center to send a personalized letter to your member of Congress to let them know that people of faith stand for the protection of migrant children and their families, an end to family detention and funding measures that reflect our proud history as a nation of welcome. You can also set an in-district meeting with your elected representatives. For more information on local advocacy, please see LIRS’s Congressional Advocacy Guide.
- Write a Letter to the Editor: Letters to the editor are powerful and widely read. Use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to educate your community about our immigrant roots as a nation and the need to be a welcoming society that stays true to our American values of freedom, equality, and opportunity. Below is a sample letter to the editor for your use.
I’m writing to express my belief in America’s hope and promise, which is highlighted during the holiday season as we come together with our families. In this time of gratitude, which also celebrates the survival and prosperity of our own immigrant forebears, it’s crucial to remember our immigrant roots as a nation. We need to continue to lift up the American tradition of being a welcoming society that honors the values of freedom, equality, and opportunity. As we break bread with members of our family, congregation, and community here in [city or town], I ask that each of us reflect on the need to be a more welcoming and compassionate society to new immigrants that continues the very same American values and traditions we celebrate during this holiday season.
[First and last name] [Full address – note that it is not for publishing, but rather for the editors to verify your identity.]
- Make Your Support for Immigration Reform Visible. LIRS continues to work with Congress and the Administration to reform our broken immigration system. As you organize and attend events, please take pictures and share them with us so we can lift up your amazing work with others around the country. LIRS offers lawn signs showing Lutheran commitment to compassionate immigration reform. These signs can be placed in front of churches and homes. To request lawn signs, please visit our website and we will be happy to put them in the mail to you.
Please contact me at email@example.com | 202-626-7931 if you would like support for any of the activities outlined above. Please remember to document your activities by taking pictures and keep you informed of your efforts!
If you haven’t already, sign up for our Stand for Welcome alerts to receive regular updates from LIRS on advocacy for and with migrants and refugees. You can also receive news and tools in the bi-monthly e-newsletter Rebuilding Hope.
Thanks so much for all your inspiring efforts. It makes all the difference that you continue to Stand for Welcome and bear prophetic witness to the struggle of migrants and refugees during this holiday season.
In faith and justice,