Today, I'm holding down the fort here in Memphis while two of my co-workers and nine workers from WIN's Workers' Center travel to Washington, DC for the March for America. About 100,000 people are expected to take part in this march for comprehensive immigration reform. Why do we think that now is the time for immigration reform?
1) Our diverse faith traditions call on us to love the immigrant and seek justice for all people. The Hebrew scriptures caution us to "not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 23:9) My own Christian tradition directs me to welcome the "stranger" (a term that specifically refers to immigrants) as if he or she is Jesus himself (Matthew 25:35). Islam also teaches that God desires justice, including for those who are refugees or strangers. The day after the march a high level delegation of religious leaders will be meeting with the White House to share these messages and press for immigration reform.
2) Families are being torn apart. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in fear that my child could be taken from me at any moment. Or what's it's like to have to work in another country without your family, just so they can survive. But thousands of immigrant families live with these fears and these realities every day.
Our broken immigration system makes it very difficult for many immigrant workers to reunite with their families. The agony of family separation discourages people from working within the current immigration system. (If you have questions about why people don't "wait in line" to get a visa under the current U.S. immigration system, check out this easy to understand chart by Reason magazine that shows how long it takes to become a citizen depending on your immigration situation.)
The number of deportations during President Obama's first year is higher than in previous years. As Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine points out, this means more broken lives. "That is not what we meant by change," Wallis writes, and I agree.
3) Workers' rights are being eroded. Every day at Workers Interfaith Network, we see the ways that employers take advantage of undocumented workers by paying them below minimum wage and intimidating immigrants who try to form unions. Many immigrant workers want to organize for better working conditions and pay, but they have to balance that desire with the fear of deportation. When employers can hire immigrant workers for low wages and bad working conditions, it hurts all workers. Immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for immigrant workers already working and paying taxes in the U.S. would level the playing field for all workers.