Photos by Justin Hubbard, Duke Divinity School Intern
I was new to the scene, a newcomer at the 2nd annual Faith & Immigration Statewide Summit. Just weeks ago I started my internship with NC Council of Churches.
Before the room could come into focus, I found myself in conversation with pastors, organizers, and advocacy groups, recognizing both a patience and an urgency that seems to come with this work. Our day together unfolded a compelling narrative of faith leaders in North Carolina moving forward in solidarity to make communities better for immigrants.* Not everyone shares this vision however, as some politicians continue to push a restrictionist agenda, infusing local communities with anti-immigration rhetoric. This story of challenge and hope, of conflicting conceptions of justice, and of faith leaders forming a public voice, captured my attention early.
The fellowship hall at United Church of Chapel Hill was filled with faith leaders looking for comrades, searching for creative ways to tell the truth about immigration in North Carolina. Rev. Ismael Ruiz-Millán, director of the Hispanic House of Studies at Duke Divinity School, weaved accounts of immigrant struggle together with a lively scriptural imagination in his keynote address. For Rev. Ruiz-Millán, to stand with his friends to make communities better for immigrants is a way of practicing resurrection. That is, the very act of solidarity is in itself the account of the hope that is within us.
Transitioning from Ruiz-Millán’s keynote address to a series of workshops, participants were able to focus the conversation in specific tracks covering the different modes of response available to faith community. From introductory sessions on immigration policy, to pastoral care, to the specific strategies of effective community organizing, seminar leaders offered their expertise and interacted with the many questions and testimonies of faith leaders in the room. I attended the advocacy workshop led by Mauricio Castro of the NC Latino Coalition.
Castro began by evoking the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero, whose prophetic witness against social injustice exemplified Castro’s greatest hopes of organizing for immigration reform in his home state. Unveiling the forces in North Carolina that prevent people from flourishing, Castro pointed back to the painful effects of two anti-immigration bills passed in June 2011. In addition, he described the anti-immigration aims of the Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy, and the upcoming legislative session that may well see consideration of new measures to make undocumented workers and immigrant families unwelcome in North Carolina.
Castro then pointed forward, calling for a mobilization of faith leaders with specific strategies to bend North Carolina legislation toward justice, making all communities better for immigrants. He urged leaders to take power analysis seriously, to know how strong are the forces against immigration reform. Yet, far from painting a paralyzing picture of insurmountable challenge, Castro and other seminar leaders evoked a desire for something better. The conversations reminded us that not even the most ardent of opponents to immigration reform are outside the possibilities of conversion. Indeed, even Romero’s courage to speak against social injustice came after his own unexpected conversion.
It was a day marked by a powerful underlying story: faith leaders are active, and congregations will not stand idly by while immigrant communities suffer. And in these months following the Faith and Immigration Statewide Summit, I imagine it will be a springboard for more conversations to be had and meals to be shared. Indeed, I am tempted to say, that the spirit of Romero is alive in North Carolina.
* I am borrowing the phrase “make communities better for immigrants” from the Latino Migration Project, which takes this to be its mission.
By Scott Schomburg, Duke Divinity School Intern