May 20, 2009 STATEMENT — Lutheran Leaders Support Reforms to the Family-Based Immigration System: A Statement from LIRS and the Rev. H. Julian Gordy, Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA

Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advancement
410-230-2847, lirspress@lirs.org

Lutheran Leaders Support Reforms to the Family-Based Immigration System: A Statement from LIRS and the Rev. H. Julian Gordy, Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA

BALTIMORE, May 2O, 2009—As Lutheran leaders who recognize the importance of the family in building strong communities, we are deeply concerned that the U.S. immigration system keeps families apart for years and sometimes decades. We see the strain of this separation on American families and communities, particularly during tough economic times. For this reason, we support the Reuniting Families Act, a bill re-introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY). This important piece of legislation advances the common good by enabling family members to reunite with their loved ones more quickly and by reducing hardship faced by families at risk of being separated.

Christian Scripture and tradition uphold the central role of the family in the formation of faith, character and community. Almost 500 years ago Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation and the Lutheran church, spoke passionately about the critical role and responsibility that the family plays in the formation of faith. From the beginning, Lutherans worldwide have been committed to protecting and promoting family unity and well-being.

Following World War II one out of every six Lutherans in the world was displaced. With the participation of 6,000 congregations, U.S. Lutherans opened their homes, churches and communities to assist tens of thousands of migrants and their families. Lutherans have continued this ministry and every day bear witness to how our society is strengthened and renewed by the contributions of migrant families.

Our current family-based immigration system requires adult siblings of U.S. citizens to wait 10–22 years to reunite. Spouses and minor children of green card holders must wait as long as seven years to be together. As faith leaders who provide ministry and service to families nationwide, we see no benefit to anyone when families are separated for this long.

A specific example of the painful separation caused by the current immigration system is that of a Lutheran woman of Guyanese origin living in New Jersey. Her brother is developmentally disabled and was being cared for in Guyana by their mother. Their mother died and no one else in Guyana could care for the brother. The sister applied for her brother to join her in the United States but would have had to wait 11 years for a visa. Instead of waiting, the brother came on a short-term visitor visa but did not return after the visa expired. Fortunately, he was able to obtain legal status many years later, but under current law he would not have been able to remain in the United States with his sister.

The Reuniting Families Act would help to reduce the time that some family members must wait before being able to join their loved ones. The bill would also give the government authority to ameliorate hardship faced by families who might otherwise be forced apart by the current restrictions in immigration laws.

Family unity has long been a fundamental principle of U.S. immigration policy, and it must remain a critical component of our country’s immigration system in the future. The immigration system should be reformed to reunite families as quickly as possible.

The United States prides itself on being a nation that supports family values, yet the current immigration system forces families to wait much too long to be together. The Reuniting Families Act would alleviate pressure on U.S. borders, allow more immigrants to utilize legal immigration channels and continue to foster the development of vibrant American communities. We applaud Sens. Menendez, Gillibrand, Kennedy and Schumer for their leadership, and we urge all U.S. leaders to take note of this important legislation.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is the national agency established by these denominations to carry out their ministry with uprooted people.

The Rev. H. Julian Gordy is the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, presiding over more than 170 congregations in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. He is a member of the Immigration Ready Bench, the ELCA’s task force on immigration and refugee issues.