March on Washington: The Fierce Urgency of Now for Immigration Reform

Rev. John L. McCullough | August 28, 2013

As originally published by Huffington Post, 08/28/2013, 9:26 a.m.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King and the many other courageous civil rights leaders who helped fostered the progress we have seen in this country. I am proud to count many in the Church World Service family among them. As just one example: CWS provided blankets and support for people who came to Washington 50 years ago to demand justice for all of God’s children.

Yet as we commemorate all that has been achieved in the past 50 years, I am reminded that the work towards civil rights for all in this country remains unfinished. The divide in our nation over Trayvon Martin’s death highlights how far we still have to go to achieve racial harmony and justice in America. And sadly Dr. Martin Luther King’s words still ring true for most of our congregations today: “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”

At this time in our nation’s history, I am also reminded that one of the most important messages of the civil rights movement was that persons of color are not relegated to second-class status. Our country was built on the higher truth that all are created equal. But this truth has yet to be realized by millions of aspiring Americans with whom we pray every Sabbath, whose children pledge allegiance to the American flag alongside our children, and who are committed and contributing members of our communities.

As Congress considers how to move forward on immigration reform, we in the faith community are strongly advocating for a path to citizenship for our 11 million undocumented community members. If Congress does not get this done, we will perpetuate the very injustices Dr. King advocated against — a country in which entire communities are prohibited from ever achieving the full rights and freedoms guaranteed by our nation’s founders.

In addition, one of the gravest threats to civil rights currently facing our country is H.R. 2278, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, known in bitter irony as the “SAFE” Act. But there is nothing safe about this so-called SAFE Act. This bill, currently being considered by the House of Representatives, would encourage racial profiling and harm both community safety and vulnerable populations.

The bill is modeled after Arizona’s S.B. 1070 law mandating that local law enforcement investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest and detain everyone who they suspect to be undocumented or deportable.

By mandating that local police serve as immigration officials, it would decrease community safety, since many would not report crimes, fearing deportation of themselves or a loved one. In addition, the SAFE Act would criminalize religious leaders and houses of worship that provide humanitarian assistance to all persons regardless of immigration status.

It is a key tenant of our faith that we welcome and assist all newcomers and those in need without checking immigration paperwork. Imagine all the soup kitchens housed in church basements checking documents. This is what the SAFE Act would require. Additionally, this horrendous piece of legislation would criminalize ordinary acts of kindness like providing transportation to a neighbor or congregation member, and would even criminalize members of mixed immigration status families traveling together.

This is not the America that Dr. King dreamed of 50 years ago. We in the faith community will not stand to have compassion criminalized.

As I recently re-read Dr. King’s speech from the Lincoln Memorial, I was struck by how relevant his words remain today as we work towards achieving compassionate immigration reform:

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children.”

Amen, Dr. King. And onto making his dream a reality for all.

Rev. John L. McCullough is President and CEO of CWS.