Immigration reform, the Utah way
By steve klemz
Utah is a great place to be a pastor. This is a state where religion is the topic of conversation every day, and where public policy is shaped by our core values, especially our commitment to family unity and our heritage of hospitality.
So, as the U.S. House of Representatives begins pivotal debates on immigration reform, it's not surprising that so many Utah citizens, of so many faiths, are speaking out for common sense changes to our broken system. I am one of those calling for reform, because I can personally testify that this system is broken.
My wife, who is undocumented, has been in U.S. Immigration Court proceedings twice in 11 years. At the risk of facing deportation, we petitioned to receive a green card through marriage, a request that has twice been denied. This, despite her being law-abiding, engaged in our community and devoted to our congregation.
To this day, we're trapped in a bureaucratic immigration system of contradictions, impunity, and senseless dead ends. This means my family faces the very real possibility of being torn apart.
I can't imagine the trauma of my wife being held in detention. But for too many families, that's reality. On any given day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement imprisons 34,000 people, despite the fact that many are refugees, asylum seekers or survivors of torture or human trafficking.
The toll of detention is compounded by the pain of deportation, especially for children. The deportation of my wife would inflict unimaginable harm on our family. Yet, just last year the United States deported 412,000 persons, 98,000 of whom were parents of U.S. citizen children.
Living under this broken immigration system is not the America where decency and the common good prevail, for all who have the inalienable human right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In the face of this human suffering, not only for my family but for tens of thousands of others, I'm grateful for people of faith who have taken a stand by welcoming immigrants and refugees. Many churches, not just my own, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, are united in this respect. I appreciate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for supporting the principles of the Utah Compact. This stance is consistent with the LDS Church's principles for understanding "neighbor" as a relationship, which includes all of God's children, and the need to strengthen families by protecting them from "forced separation."
As people of faith, I believe we are morally compelled to speak out for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform. We need to speak forcefully, since the U.S. House is dragging its feet on passing a bill that reflects our core values of the sanctity of family and the need for a path to citizenship.
If anything, the House is showing less leadership than the Senate, which last month passed a positive immigration bill, S.744. In contrast, the House Judiciary Committee has passed the SAFE Act, which would mandate even more detention of immigrants, while expanding a government program that encourages racial profiling.
I'm proud of how the faith community is defending families and children by calling for fair and humane immigration reform. Now is the moment for the House to pay heed.
With wisdom, and without partisan bickering, our representatives should deliver legislation that improves on the Senate reform bill. That would be good for Utahns. Most important, it would be good for families.
Steve Klemz is pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City. He works with Enriching Utah Coalition and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.