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Re-imagining the Immigration System in the United States of America

Authored by the Rev. Deacon Clelia P. Garrity, LCSW


My call as a deacon has led me down many paths over the past 11 years. Many of these paths have led to places inhabited by peoples considered by many to be impoverished, uneducated, and unable to care for themselves. I have found quite the opposite. Rather, everywhere I go I have encountered incredibly powerful voices of God. Perhaps more importantly, I have come to see how little we as Americans know and understand of the world. All of these wonderful souls have taught me the meaning of humility and a far deeper definition of love.

Currently, the global movement of people is fast becoming a humanitarian crisis for countries whose borders immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers seek to cross. Church World Service recently convened a panel discussion focusing on The Future of Refugee Resettlement and Complementary Pathways: Strengthening Sustainable and Strategic Humanitarian Solutions for Refugees. In an informative and inspirational panel discussion, several European countries speak of their collaborative efforts to address the issue of refugee resettlement on a global level.


From this discussion, it is clear that the path to successful resettlement for any group of refugees lies in the collaborative efforts of both ecclesial and sectarian agencies. Ecclesial to bring God's love for the world to the forefront. Sectarian to ensure critical thinking for policy development and much-needed funding for healing those who have suffered.

In America, we have not yet reached this level of sophistication. Rather than entering into collaborative conversations and partnerships, we continue to politicize and weaponize all aspects of immigration. In doing so, we defeat God's commandment that we welcome the alien and love our neighbor, and we paralyze a system so necessary to millions of men, women, and children.


Between the years 1790 and 2006 there were no fewer than 30 congressional bills that attempted to establish an American system of immigration. (Migration Policy Institute.) Since that time, a number of executive orders and congressional acts have essentially dismantled what was, however inadequate, and left in its wake an American immigration system that is both broken and outdated. Caught in the aftermath of this disorganization are millions of men, women, and children who have experienced and who continue to experience a host of political and psychosocial assaults. Assaults that have traumatized, and in many cases, permanently damaged their minds, their bodies, and their spirits.

  • Dr. Alan Shapiro/PBS; Children in Detention https://youtu.be/mJ7vE2Cz8CU

  • Boston University-The psychological and legal needs of immigrant children - https://youtu.be/Ih34hY-p4Bs

  • Pre-Migration Trauma Exposure and Mental Health Functioning… - https://www.immigrationresearch.org/report/other/pre-migration-trauma-exposure-and-mental-health-functioning-among-central-american-migr

  • Children Who Witness Parent's Immigration Arrest… - https://centerforhealthjournalism.org/children-who-witness-parents-immigration-arrest-may-suffer-lifetime-health-consequences

Various legal and policy institutes are working closely with the Biden administration to re-think and re-design American immigration policy. (i.e. americanbar.org; aila.org; SupportKind.org) The Episcopal Church in collaboration with other religious organizations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is an active partner in the work of immigration reform. Reform that is relevant and just in a rapidly changing world in which at least 79.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes; among which nearly 26 million are refugees, many of whom are under the age of 18. Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) and the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) have worked, and are working, tirelessly to stay abreast of relevant policy discussions, develop advocacy efforts, assist in resettlement activities, and design educational and advocacy tools for use at the diocesan level.


Key efforts that are being addressed by all of these and other organizations, in collaboration with the Biden Administration are: Ensuring fairness, efficiency, and accountability in the legal immigration system; restoring integrity, fairness, and efficiency to immigration courts, ensuring the fair and humane treatment of migrants at the border; ending inhumane detention; improving customs and border protection (CBP) adjudications and processing at ports of entry; and protecting undocumented people and others with deep ties to America.


The Biden administration is currently and will continue to face complex and challenging struggles as it strives to untangle prior legislation and create a re-thought, re-designed immigration system that is based on 21st-century immigrant and refugee realities. Without support from the local level, the voice of the people, the challenges to any significant and lasting reform may be grave. Advocacy work at the diocesan level has never been more critical.

In his book, "How to Be an Anti-Racist," Ibram X. Kendi makes the point that it is policy, not people, that create and sustain racial prejudice and a discrimination-filled society that inhibits not only our Christian ethic of welcoming the stranger and loving our neighbors as ourselves but also recognition of the changing new possibilities of economic growth. He writes:

“Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It's a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.” ― Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

To overcome the stumbling block of seeing the deficiencies of people rather than policy, one must have a well-informed understanding of immigration, both historically and in the present. Being well-informed requires the opportunity to learn about both the historical and the present-day aspects of immigration in the U. S. and the desire to learn to love those against whom we are discriminating. It requires the courage to discuss and to discern a question posed so elegantly by J.L. Yang in her incredibly detailed history of immigration in the United States,

“Is our Americanness based on being a member of a certain race, or does it entail a set of values that transcend our ethnic origins? To what extent is our democracy bound by moral obligation to people beyond the U. S. borders: What does it mean to assimilate and become an American citizen?” - Jia Lynn Yang, One Mighty and Irresistible Tide

The Episcopal Church has received a clear directive from its presiding bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael J. Curry. That directive is to become a Jesus Movement and to establish a Way of Love. What does this mean when we apply these concepts to the field of immigration reform? What is our role as members of the Jesus Movement in this effort? How do we assist in developing legislation and life-giving opportunities that reflect the Way of Love in the lives of immigrants and refugees?


Certainly, there are many ways to accomplish this goal. However, there is little chance of meaningful and sustainable change without a unified voice of the people – the people of the church. A voice that has reaped the benefit of education that is informed not only by fact but also by the Holy Spirit. A voice of love.

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