Many times in the past two years, I have related the experiences of my church in Solana Beach — including at a White House meeting with other evangelical faith leaders to discuss the urgency of immigration reform. Everyone at that gathering agreed on the moral and biblical imperative of welcoming the stranger and the reality that immigration is not just about politics and policy, but about people.
Our church’s story is decades of deep, family-like relationships through tutoring, college prep, citizenship classes, worshipping and serving together. Those children living in fear of a parent’s deportation are our children. I was inspired by one young man, initially a “Dreamer,” who received temporary status in order to complete his master’s degree and later become an army chaplain. Our North County Immigration and Citizenship Center is helping qualified immigrants gain legal status, including deferred action for “Dreamers.”
Honestly, it has been disappointing to see our immigration system remain broken because of our broken political system. But, I am encouraged by the shift in the tone and the content of the immigration debate.
Last week I went to Washington to be part of an “Immigration 2020” National Strategy Session. In person and online, close to 200 faith leaders, law enforcement, business, and other civic leaders from at least 15 states helped launch a conversation to shape a long-term agenda for new Americans and America to succeed. On multiple panels, experts offered important perspectives on immigration.
The day focused on our values. How we treat new immigrants reflects our commitment to the values that define us. As Americans, we believe that all are created equal, families should stick together, we should be neighbors to one another, and every child should have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. Gail Christopher of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation reminded us that human beings are nearly identical, yet we mistakenly still subscribe to “a hierarchy of human value.”
Our conversation also focused on the economy. Tax reformer Grover Norquist said, “Immigration isn’t a challenge. It’s what makes us work … how we built our country.” Because immigrants create one of every three new small businesses, new Americans are vital to our nation’s economic prosperity. Leading economists believe America needs immigration to build a strong workforce, both high-tech and lower-wage, and that our economy will grow if we are able to attract the best, brightest and hardest-working people from around the world.
This wasn’t my first time to D.C., but it was special because I took a team from our community, including that young Dreamer whose story I wrote about and shared with the president. We walked together through the Capitol, told our stories to legislative aides, climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and met with the White House staffer who first invited me to the Oval Office after reading an earlier piece I wrote on this topic.
Like me, many are seeing the issue of immigration through a different lens. This new perspective is one of abundance, creativity and innovation and the future success of our country. A majority of the American people (60 percent) favor immigration reform. Even members of Congress agree broadly on the need to secure our borders, respect the rule of law and provide a process for earned citizenship or legal status.
In North County we are seeing a diverse network join together with expertise, passion and hard work to find solutions that help people gain skills and opportunities through education, language, integration, and status.
Until we actually have immigration reform that reflects our values and ensures a thriving America — may that day come soon — we will continue to do what we can locally to welcome new Americans and strengthen our community.
Rev. Dr. Michael J. McClenahan is senior pastor of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church in Solana Beach, California.
(This op-ed was first published in Union-Tribune November 7, 2014)