This is another time in history when the Religious Society of Friends can serve as yeast, participating in a social transformation that overcomes a long-standing injustice. We can bring a focus to current immigration policies and practices through the actions of many Friends meetings declaring themselves sanctuary or sanctuary support churches. We can advocate as well for immigration reform.
Sanctuary churches provide a safe place for an undocumented person to stay while their lawyer argues their case in court. Sanctuary support churches do what they can to assist full sanctuary churches. Any meeting, no matter how small, can be a sanctuary support church. The public declaration by faith communities that they have joined the sanctuary movement sends a powerful message to others in their community that the current immigration system is immoral.
There is a clear path to a compassionate and effective immigration system: Stop deporting undocumented people who are otherwise law-abiding; after a criminal background check provide them a path to citizenship. We could then focus the resources of the federal government on the often-expressed concerns of apprehending dangerous criminals and limiting additional undocumented people.
These actions would provide a number of benefits to society. The 11 million people living among us would be able to fully engage in the economy, swelling the tax rolls and adding $100 billion in economic activity. They could pursue additional training and degrees, improving our workforce. Citizenship would provide a full range of privileges and obligations and enable them to come out of the shadow of fear they are living in.
In addition to the benefits to society and undocumented people, offering citizenship to our neighbors is a moral obligation. Most families in the United States benefit from the exploitation of undocumented workers who are paid less, have no job security or benefits, and are often exposed to danger, harassment, and sexual assault.
It would be very difficult to adopt John Woolman’s stance against slavery in our contemporary society. In Woolman’s time, there was a clear link between clothing dye and slavery, and he could break that link by wearing undyed clothing. Today, in virtually every part of our economy, consumers pay less because undocumented workers are paid far less than minimum wage laws mandate.
Undocumented people live in constant fear, magnified by the current escalation of deporting non-criminals. Parents are often afraid to go to school conferences or bring their children to medical facilities. Children are distracted in school because they fear they will return home to find that their parent has been deported. Crimes go unreported.
If we are to be people of integrity, we need to end our complicity in exploiting and maintaining people living in this inhumane manner. We can speak and act to end this injustice that has existed, hidden in this country in plain sight, for many years.
Every religion in America includes a form of the admonition to “love your neighbor.” We have clearly failed to do this. Families are being torn apart and an underground railroad is forming to help people flee to Canada. Just like the early stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement, this is the time for people of conscience to embrace the brothers and sisters living among us.