The General Assembly (GA) approved four interrelated items focused on how Presbyterians in the U.S. welcome and support refugees and asylum seekers who come to the United States. Taken together they place attention on a more just immigration system and call on the PC(USA) as a denomination to greater visibility, particularly in how we treat refugees who come directly to our borders. [Refugees who are still on the move are known as asylum seekers to reflect people searching for protection (asylum = safety/protection).] A complete compilation of the four immigration-related items as adopted by GA can be found here. We are also deeply grateful that two of the overtures endorse the continuance of resourcing PC(USA) national offices (which includes PDA) in carrying out these ministries.
Within the four overtures is the decision to declare the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be a “Sanctuary and Accompaniment Church” that supports and encourages its congregations, mid councils, and members to support immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and their children, and to resist efforts by the government to separate families. This decision reaffirms the denomination’s support for the use of sanctuary as a faithful witness to the Gospel, while more boldly stating its centrality to our identity as a Church. By connecting sanctuary—which historically was one particular type of action—and accompaniment, it recognizes that there are many different ways in which people of faith show their compassion and solidarity with our refugee and immigrant siblings. Indeed, the items raised in all four overtures are interconnected. Similarly, even though specific offices are identified, it is also clear that in order to carry out any one aspect of our work, it must be done collaboratively with those who are leading the church in other actions. Collectively, we are working for more just, dignified, and compassionate treatment of all our neighbors, regardless of immigration status.
An overture regarding the Treatment of Refugees directs the Presbyterian Mission Agency to Provide the whole church with information about conditions that precipitate migration, obstacles to care for refugees, and about detention and deportation practices. And Encourage congregations, presbyteries, and synods to engage with the refugee community by participation in welcoming activities, and resistance to unlawful or unhelpful government activity.
Like the Sanctuary and Accompaniment overture, there are many public policy advocacy actions, which will be led by our colleagues in the Office of Immigration Issues, the Office of Public Witness, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.
These specific advocacy items, however, cannot be separated from our humanitarian work and become a part of our work as well:
- advocate for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to release, for the duration of the COVID-19 epidemic and any similar health or environmental dangers in the future, all detainees who are not indicted for violent felonies;
- to end and/or prevent the separation of children from their parents; to reunite promptly those who have been separated; and
- to end permanently the use of privately owned (for-profit) detention facilities as well as prisons.
Because we educate potential and current volunteers about visitation to people in immigration detention centers and accompaniment of those who are released, we feel compelled to place these ministries in the larger context of U.S. policy and to share the firsthand accounts from the refugees and immigrants most impacted by these policies.
A Resolution Supporting Immigration/Refugee Justice Work in the PC(USA) directs us to increase our focus on work along the U.S./Mexico border in greater and more consistent collaboration across the PCUSA offices, Racial Equity Advocacy Committee and the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy to:
- Create a comprehensive policy report with recommendations addressing the continued justice concerns faced by those seeking to enter the United States via the southern border, and report back to the 226th General Assembly (2024);
- Strengthen the work of the PCUSA as well as our partnerships with ecumenical and interfaith partners
- Create a just system of welcome with dignity at the southern border of the United States.
In addition to these more general calls to action, GA is directing specific activities that will become the responsibility of PDA: to urge Presbyterian attorneys and paralegals—and translators and interpreters equipped in the necessary languages—to become trained in asylum law in order to expand the availability of legal representation; to work to broaden accessibility of training resources for this purpose; to encourage the work of existing pro-bono immigration support networks; and to establish a network of attorneys so that a list of resources exists throughout the United States to ensure the alleviation of the suffering of immigrants and people seeking asylum.
The Rev. Michelle Hwang, chair of the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee said, “Our initial resolution…[was] to establish a network of lawyers. [But] during [Covid-19] we found out that Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) is doing this work, so what we would like for you to do is to encourage PMA to amplify that service and encourage Presbyterians who are retired or who want to do pro bono work to [help] beef up this network.”
All of this is necessary because the U.S. immigration system does not provide attorneys, leaving most asylum seekers to defend their asylum request on their own. Because an asylum request at the border is an immediate referral to an immigration court, the need for legal assistance just to navigate the court system is incredibly high. Up until now PDA has referred Mid-Councils and congregations to non-profit legal projects in their area (having provided grants to many over the years), so intentional and targeted outreach to Presbyterians with legal, translation and interpretation skills to volunteer their time will be new for us. Fortunately, we can reach out to immigration experts around the country—such as the Immigration Advocacy Network and American Immigration Council—that are already training legal professionals. There are also national and local non-profit organizations matching qualified attorneys with individual asylum cases and other types of representation. The final piece of our puzzle will be encouraging Presbyterians with the needed language skills to volunteer to assist attorneys in their representation of asylum seekers.
While these four items directly impact PDA’s priorities for the future, there were other items GA took action on that we will be involved in as well. They are just as important and we will dedicate them in a future post.
Ways to take Action in July and August:
“Heal Not Harm – Restore Asylum Now!”
Webinar: Monday, July 18, 4pm ET / 3pm CT / 2pm MT / 1pm PT
Teach-In and Call to Action
How do we end the deadly “Title 42” policy and restore access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border? Despite efforts by DHS to revoke it, Title 42 is at risk of becoming permanent if we don’t stop legislators from attaching it to essential funding bills and COVID relief. Join this multi-faith event hosted by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.* Get critical updates on asylum access in the U.S. and the impact of Title 42. This webinar kicks off two weeks of action calling on the U.S. Government to “Heal Not Harm,” to demand an end to Title 42 and a restoration of life-affirming asylum policies.
Spanish and Creole interpretation, and Closed Captions provided.
*The PC(USA) is a member of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and one of the organizers of this event.
? Heal Not Harm!?
For the next two weeks, we’re driving calls to Congress to advocate for the restoration of the U.S. asylum system and an end to Title 42 for good. Join Presbyterians on Tuesday, July 26th for our Presbyterian & Disciples Call-in Day! More information will be available on PDA’s Facebook page.
August Recess Visits
Contact your Senate and House District Offices to ask for a meeting during their August Recess. Put together a team of refugee, asylee and faith community members using the PC(USA) August Recess Guide to be available by the end of July.