For the first time since its creation, a special committee reviewing North Carolina’s immigration policy heard from the public on Wednesday, March 28th. To a hearing room packed with advocates on both sides of the immigration debate, speakers told their stories to North Carolina lawmakers charged with considering the state’s role in immigration.
Thirty-five of the more than 60 people who signed up to speak had that opportunity; of those 35 speakers, 27 were pro-immigrant including Bishop Michael B. Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina and Reverend Isaac Villegas, pastor of the Chapel Hill Mennonite Church.
Reverend Villegas presented the co-chairs of the committee with over 175 written comments from clergy and people of faith from across the State urging the committee to carefully consider the negative impact that new tough, anti-immigration laws would have on North Carolina. Here are a few of those comments:
I plead with our legislators to not allow North Carolina to become the next Arizona or Alabama by rejecting anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation and by, instead, supporting policies that will build our states’ moral character and encourage economic growth.
~ Raleigh, NC
I truly hope that the State of North Carolina will reflect in its laws the value of hospitality to the stranger. These people live and dwell in and around my community and in many cases are the best, most hospitable, and hard working neighbors I have. Their children come to church with our children and I would oppose the concept of violently breaking up their families and their homes.
~ Cove City, NC
I urge our lawmakers to exercise compassion and common sense in order to make our state a place of hospitality as well as a place that provides safe pathways toward legal immigration status.
~ Mt. Olive, NC
North Carolina doesn’t need the embarrassment of the results of Arizona type laws that are mean-spirited and cost the economy money. We do need Immigration Reform Legislation which must be done at the Federal level.
~ Cary, NC
Underscoring the complexity and controversy associated with the issue, at the end of the emotional two-hour session, the co-chairs announced that the committee would not reconvene until after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the controversial Arizona immigration law.
[wpcol_1half id=”” class=”” style=”width: 280px; padding:1em; background: #eeeeee; border: solid 1px #eeeeee; -moz-border-radius:5px; -khtml-border-radius: 5px; -webkit-border-radius:5px; -moz-box-shadow: 0 0 5px #aaaaaa; -webkit-box-shadow: 0 0 5px#aaaaaa; box-shadow: 0 0 5px #aaaaaa; border-radius: 5px;”]Statement to the House Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy by Rev. Isaac Villegas:
I don’t have any illusions that the United States of America is a Christian nation. It isn’t. I don’t have any illusions that North Carolina is a Christian state. It isn’t.
I don’t have any of these illusions because if the story of the Bible was important to us, we wouldn’t be so worried about foreigners, we wouldn’t be so afraid of immigrants. After all, the story of the Christian gospel centers on a man named Jesus — or, as we called him in my family, Jesús: the one who was born on the migrant trail, moving from place to place, born to parents who did everything they could to protect him from Herod and his government, parents who even defied the will of Herod and snuck away, under the cover of darkness, crossing into Egypt without proper documentation — sin papeles, as we would put it today; parents who did all of this for the sake of their child, for the sake of Jesus.
As a Christian, I’m grateful for Mary and Joseph, those faithful parents, who kept Jesus safe from the government’s hands as they crossed borders and as they relied on the hospitality of strangers in Egypt and in Bethlehem.
Like I said, I have no illusions that this story will be important to you as you consider how to guide our state. But those of us who are Christians, and who call North Carolina our home, we can’t help but see the world through the eyes of the Bible; we can’t help but see our state, our representatives, and our communities through the story of Jesus. And when we look at the laws you pass, we will be wondering where you fit in this story, in the story of the Bible, in the story of Jesus.
Should we count you among the people who welcomed Jesus and his parents, who received them with open arms? Or should we count you among Herod’s people? As read the story of Jesus, and as we watch what you do as our representatives, we will be wondering what side you’re on.
It’s important that you, our legislators, know how we relate our faith to the debates about immigration in our state. The North Carolina Council of Churches has a statement on immigration. It says, “As people of faith… our calling is to welcome the stranger and offer hospitality… to the migrant and refugee, regardless of legal status. We remember the words of Leviticus 19:33-34, when God tells the Israelites: ‘Do not mistreat foreigners living in your land, but treat them just as you treat your own citizens. Love foreigners as you love yourselves, because you were foreigners one time in Egypt.’ ”
As you make new laws, please do not stand in our way as we practice our faith, as our churches feed the hungry and provide for the needy, as we extend hospitality, as we treat foreigners as fellow citizens, as we welcome immigrants, immigrants like Jesús.
Rev. Isaac S. Villegas is the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship and serves on the Governing Board of the NC Council of Churches.[/wpcol_1half] [wpcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=”width: 280px; padding:1em; background: #eeeeee; border: solid 1px #eeeeee; -moz-border-radius:5px; -khtml-border-radius: 5px; -webkit-border-radius:5px; -moz-box-shadow: 0 0 5px #aaaaaa; -webkit-box-shadow: 0 0 5px#aaaaaa; box-shadow: 0 0 5px #aaaaaa; border-radius: 5px;”]Statement to the House Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy by Bishop Michael Curry:
Langston Hughes, long ago in the last century, composed a poem from the perspective of being one disenfranchised as an African-American. The first sentence of that poem was “I, too, sing America.”
I stand here to sing America, proud of her heritage, proud of her honor, proud that this is a nation who opens her arms and declares, “Bring me your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.” This is a nation of immigrants, a nation of people who have come seeking only to sing America.
I call on you as members of this committee to back only legislation that reflects the best of this nation, one nation under God. I implore you, please listen to facts, and not myths, not stereotypes. Listen to the facts of the contribution of immigrants to this country to this very day.
The next time you eat a salad, remember an immigrant picked the lettuce. The next time you dine, the next time your grass is cut, the next time someone reaches out in welcome, even in another language, remember, I, too, sing America.
I, too, believe in the rule of law. I stand before you as a Christian, as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church, a church that has in successive conventions called for comprehensive immigration reform, but I, too, believe in the rule of law, but it is the rule of a higher law.
We are one nation under God, a God who, for me, came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who said on that great judgment day we will not be judged by our Church, but we will be judged by whether we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, clothed the naked, showed compassion.
“For as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family,” said Jesus of Nazareth, “you have done it unto me.”
I, too, sing America, and I implore you, please sing America in all that you do.
Rt. Rev. Michael Curry is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.[/wpcol_1half_end]
-Chris Liu-Beers, Program Associate, and Megan Nerz, Volunteer Program Associate for Immigration