January 24, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Laments Harmful Impacts of Proposed State Legislation

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

LIRS Laments Harmful Impacts of Proposed State Legislation

BALTIMORE, January 24, 2011— Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, is gravely concerned that the punitive immigration bills being considered by many state legislatures would contradict the biblical mandate to care for sojourners in our midst. LIRS recognizes that the U.S. immigration system is in serious need of reform. However, instead of creating a patchwork of state laws that hurts families and sows distrust in communities, LIRS encourages state legislators to continue to pressure Congress and the Administration to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws and policies.

LIRS hears growing concerns from Lutheran congregations about the broken immigration system and the impacts of such harmful legislation. “For people of faith committed to loving the sojourners in their congregations and communities as God instructs, it is devastating to see immigrants and their children placed at further risk,” said Jeffrey Hawks, LIRS Assistant Director for Education and Outreach. LIRS has received reports from Lutheran congregations that express concern about the presence of government officials who linger outside churches before and after services. As a result, many congregants are afraid to attend worship services for fear that they will be detained and separated from their families.

In April 2010, the Arizona state legislature passed the controversial Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (S.B. 1070), a law that requires state and local law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of any individual they ‘reasonably suspect’ of being in the United States illegally. Though some of S.B. 1070’s provisions have since been blocked in federal court, the measure has nevertheless proven harmful. “S.B. 1070 has created a culture of fear within Arizona,” said the Rev. Stephen S. Talmage, Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “Many community members are now reluctant to approach law enforcement for fear of facing questioning or being detained.”

In response to Congress’ continued failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation, many state legislators have indicated that they will follow Arizona’s lead and propose similar legislation. While it is too early to know how many of these measures will be passed and signed into law or will survive the likely legal challenges, these bills send the flawed and regrettable message that the only way to deal with our broken immigration system is to scare or dispel migrants from our communities.

Earlier this year a handful of state legislators announced their plans to introduce legislation in their respective states to restrict or repeal the Fourteenth Amendment, the part of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that children born in the United States are American citizens. These proposals run counter to American values and would not help solve the broken immigration system. They directly target newborn babies – the most vulnerable among us – by taking away their constitutional rights and protections. U.S. laws provide emergency medical care to anyone who needs urgent treatment. However, if children born to undocumented mothers in the United States are denied citizenship, pregnant immigrant women may choose to give birth outside of the hospital to avoid officials who will inquire about their immigration status. Lastly, the result of these measures would be more undocumented immigrants and would set these young children on the path of growing up in the United States in the shadows.

“States should not pass harmful immigration legislation that further exacerbates the suffering that families and communities already face,” added LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “Instead, they should seek creative and compassionate ways to help build welcome for migrants and work with congressional lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Founded in 1939, LIRS assists and advocates on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration, and other vulnerable populations and provides services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners.

If you have any questions about this statement, please contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director of Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

Further Reading:

Read the LIRS background, “Debunking Harmful and Misguided Birthright Citizenship Proposals.”

Read the September 2010 Migration Policy Institute report, “The Demographic Impacts of Repealing Birthright Citizenship.”

Read the July 14, 2010 LIRS statement on comprehensive immigration reform submitted to Congress, “The Ethical Imperative for Reform of our Immigration System.”