Religiosity and Immigration: Where to Draw the Lines?

Yale University-sponsored panel tackles the immigration issue at All Saints Church

Published : Tuesday, September 26, 2017 | 5:23 AM

In a troubling world of polarizing views, closing borders and broken families, Apolonio Morales, political director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), had a humorous and realistic answer when asked about the feeling of hopelessness in the face of America’s struggles with immigration.

“First of all,” offered Morales, “Don’t read every tweet.”

Morales made the remark at Monday evening’s “Humans at the Gate: A Faithful Approach to the Immigration Debate” discussion Monday evening at All Saints Church.

The panel discussion, sponsored by Yale Divinity School, Yale Los Angeles, and the Yale Alumni Association, also featured Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Divinity and professor of history, Yale Divinity School; Felicia Escobar, former immigration policy adviser to President Barack Obama; and Isaac Cuevas, associate director of Immigration Affairs at the Catholic Archdiocese of L.A.

The panel was moderated by Stephen Pitti, author and director of the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration and professor of history and American Studies at Yale.

“There is a sense that the religious right has dominated the microphone in terms of Christians being involved in politics and public affairs,” said Tom Krattenmaker, communication director for the Yale Divinity School before the event, “and so I think we are doing our part to end that dynamic, and make sure that the more progressive Christian voice is heard.”

Yale Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling echoed those comments, saying, “On immigration, I think there is an unambiguous biblical witness about the morality of this, on issues of climate change, again, I think there is a pretty unambiguous biblical witness to this in ethical concerns.”

Sterling continued, “I think we have not been as engaged and I’m not sure why,” but offered, “A lot of mainline denominational churches have declined to some degree, so I think that that may have muted their voices to some degree.” In introducing the discussion to the audience, Sterling reaffirmed, “Immigration is a moral issue.”

Speaking to the historic issue of religiosity as it pertains to immigration, Professor Sanneh, a historian, noted that September 11, 2001, was the starting point for a surge of anti-immigrant feelings, but also noted that founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Samuel Adams all praised Muslims and Islam.

“Another development,” said Sanneh, ironically, “is that many Muslims are now disenchanted, and may no longer see America as the country they first saw it as.”

Morales added that the immigration discussion is an international one. Saying, “I have worked with a large number of denominations, Catholics, Unitarians, in temples and in mosques, and what I found everywhere I went was this understanding of, ‘We have these great values that we have to work with, and the goal of our particular religion is to put them into practice, and into action.’ There is a commonality of understanding that these values are universal values, and they are not particular to one religion or one individual person. These values extend beyond ourselves.”

Following in that vein, when asked what people can do right now in the face of the debate, all of the panelists agreed that communication and dialogue were some of the best tools.

“You can march, but you can use social media as well,” said Escobar. “Talk to your groups, knock on doors, email your representatives,” she implored.

But not all were content with the lofty nature of the discussion, and discussing the immigration issue in seemingly academic terms. As Yale ‘94 graduate Christo Franklin commented to the panel, “I’m very disappointed with this discussion. More than the immigration laws, where is the discussion about changing regimes?”

Taken aback momentarily, and wondering whether Franklin meant changing the American administration, or other international regimes, the panel stumbled for an answer.

Then, Cuevas, calmly but firmly, said, “Before we talk about changing other regimes, let’s change the regimes in our hearts.”

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