Remembering Immigrants on Labor Day
Fixing the broken immigration system for America's most vulnerable workers
Earlier this summer, immigration agents raided the weekly Bible study that Omar, a New Orleans day laborer, and his family regularly attended. Along with four other men, Omar was handcuffed and arrested in front of his 4-year-old and 5-month-old daughters, both U.S. citizens.
No one should be threatened for seeking work in order to provide a good life for their family, or for being active and contributing members of their community. Those aspirations are human.
Deepening and exploring our faith is a fundamental part of the Christian journey. Omar deserves the right to grow in his faith. Can you imagine being at a Bible study and having the police break it up?
A number of immigrant rights organizations and people of faith called the local immigration office and demanded his release. Omar will be able to remain in the United States under supervision rather than face deportation, but his story reminds us that fixing the broken immigration system in the United States is an issue our faith calls us to tackle. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants like Omar who are forced to stay in the shadows for fear of deportation.
What our faith says about immigration
Our faith traditions are rooted in the narratives of immigrants and sojourners. Hospitality for strangers is reflected in the narratives in Jewish scripture. Remember, Moses and the Israelites suffered some serious oppression as immigrants in the land of Egypt. They were called to follow the way of God:
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34
Christians are called to “welcome the stranger” and offer hospitality to sojourners and neighbors. In Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us that the love we show for our brothers and sisters, especially the least of these, will be the standard upon which we are judged.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. — Matthew 25:35
In the United States today, we can put our faith in action by affirming the immigrants already present in our communities and welcoming newcomers compassionately.
We are called to create a beloved community where everyone can live without the collective burden of oppression. Christian communities work toward the eradication of violence and exploitation. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described it, our racism and prejudice are replaced by love for our brothers and sisters.
Changing the national policies on immigration has the potential to bring about that justice for the families of undocumented immigrants.
Why it matters for workers
This summer, workers in Washington, D.C., called on President Obama to sign an executive order that directs contracted vendors at government buildings to pay a living wage and makes sure they don’t steal wages from workers (learn more about wage theft here).
Antonio Vanegas, an undocumented immigrant, worked in food service at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in D.C. for three years.
Antonio joined workers in a one-day strike. He testified about the wages his employer, Quick Pita, failed to pay him, and called on the government to only contract with employers who implement fair labor practices.
Days after publicly confronting his boss, Antonio was detained at work by officers with the Federal Protective Service, a police unit within the Department of Homeland Security.
Antonio’s story isn’t an anomaly. Employers hire immigrant workers and exploit their status. Undocumented workers have the highest rates of wage and hour violations, according to a 2012 report from the National Employment Law Project (29 percent of immigrant men and 47 percent of immigrant women compared to 17 percent and 18 percent for native-born men and women, respectively). Employers threaten them with deportation when they speak out. (Never mind that all workers are entitled to the basic worker protections, regardless of their status.)
It’s time for immigration reform that provides a clear path to citizenship and protects the rights of all workers, regardless of immigration status.
Support immigrant families in your community
Now is the time to create an immigration policy rooted in love. In June, the Senate passed the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” (S 744). The bill offers a path to citizenship to many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants and includes protections for America’s most vulnerable workers. Passing this immigration bill is an important start to improving the lives of immigrants, their families and our communities.
There is legislation floating around the House chamber aimed at oppressing immigrants rather than welcoming them. House Republicans appear more interested in advancing border security than improving our immigration policy, but you can help:
- Contact immigrant rights organizations near you. Stand up against deportations and support the work in your community. Many IWJ Worker Centers work on immigrant justice campaigns.
- Learn about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Justice for Immigrants campaign. Watch for more news and ways to get involved as leaders in the Catholic Church stand up for immigrant rights in September.
- Urge your Representatives to vote on (and approve) the Senate bill.
- Hold a prayer vigil for and with the immigrants in your community.
- Receive updates on immigration legislation and important campaigns. Join Interfaith Worker Justice‘s Immigration Reform online action team.