For Christians, the season of Advent is a time of hopeful expectation, a hopeful waiting in the midst of short days and long hours of darkness. The challenging, exhausting, penitential practice of fasting, found in most religions, is not typically associated with the Advent season. In spite of this, thousands of people across the country are engaged in short and long term fasts, many of them from various religious communities.
On November 12 (2013), at the eastern edge of Washington D.C.'s Mall, only steps from the Capitol, people advocating for comprehensive immigration reform set up a tent and began a “Fast for Families.” On that first day, several well-known individuals like Jim Wallis of Sojourners, as well as passers-by, joined the fast and some have continued to this day.
Within the tent there is room for those who visit the fasters each day, which included, on the day after Thanksgiving, the President and First Lady. Around the country, there are also “Solidarity Fasters” who, on December 3, numbered in the thousands.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed legislation regulating almost every area of U.S. immigration policy. The drafting of such legislation is a monumental task, with employment-based, family-based, detention and deportation categories, consular services, and refugee/asylee matters.
Immigration laws are more complicated and expansive than the tax code because they cover almost every conceivable reason anyone would want to temporarily or permanently enter the U.S.: children’s choirs, baseball players, airline workers, agricultural workers, spouses of intra-company transfers from abroad, foreign students, spouses and children of U.S citizens, people fleeing persecution, and unaccompanied minors, just to name a few. Immigration legislation must also address enforcement issues: fences, cameras, drones, detention and personnel. Each of these areas requires precise details.
As if this task wasn’t difficult enough, the lobbying and political maneuvering (on which the media tends to focus) is often unrelated to the employment needs of U.S businesses, the decades’ long wait that family members must endure before they are reunited with loved ones, the harsh restrictions imposed on asylum seekers, and the contributions of those living in the shadows.
After the Senate passed the immigration legislation, religious, legal, and immigrant-rights advocates mobilized to push the House of Representatives to pass a similarly comprehensive law. Though there are enough votes overall in the House to pass this kind of bill, the Republican leadership has been unwilling to ignore the “Hastert Rule,” which requires them to have enough votes in their own party to pass a bill. Republicans do not want to rely on Democratic votes to pass new immigration laws.
Religious groups have been more vocal and unified than ever in these efforts, particularly because they know that there are enough votes to pass this legislation.
In May and June, NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization run by nuns, organized a “Nuns on the Bus” tour to educate people about the issues at stake in immigration reform. On August 15, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Immigration Education launched a 40-day period of prayer, fasting and action which, because the House did not pass the form bill, has turned into a “40 Days Plus” initiative.
The Archdiocese Office’s website shows how extensive the Catholic mobilization has been in Chicago: concerts, pilgrimages around the city, post card campaigns, parish education forums, legislative visits, call-in days, prayer vigils, coat drives for detainees, and many other activities.Other religious groups are involved in similar Chicago-based initiatives. It is not unusual to see Jewish and Muslims leaders, alongside Christian leaders at such events.
Evangelical groups, often reluctant to engage in lobbying or to speak out on political matters, recently formed the Evangelical Immigration Table. The goal of the Table is to bring together long-standing activist groups like Sojourners and Bread for the World with novice social-justice groups so they can collaborate in speaking out on behalf of immigrants.
These groups believe that the Biblical commands are clear on how immigrants should be treated. On December 5, they hosted a call, and sent out a press release titled “We’re praying for you Speaker Boehner.” So far, they have spent a million dollars on ads, have a 200,000 member prayer partnership, and include diverse Christian evangelical churches around the country.
The movement in support of comprehensive immigration reform is one of the most widespread and diverse grass roots movements in U.S. history. As the door has closed on the possibility of immigration reform before the end of the year and strategies begin for January, the hopeful waiting in darkness continues.
References and Further Reading:
O'Keefe, Ed. "Fast for immigration reform near the U.D. Capitol enters new phase." Washington Post, December 3, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/fast-for-immigration-reform-near-the-us-capitol-enters-new-phase/2013/12/03/ef63adf4-5c4b-11e3-bc56-c6ca94801fac_story.html.
Wallis, Jim. On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good. Ada, MI: Brazos Press, 2013.
Sojourners: Faith in Action for Social Justice. http://sojo.net.
Network: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. http://www.networklobby.org/new-network-nuns-bus-website.
Evangelical Immigration Table. http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com.
breadfortheworld: Have Faith. End Hunger. http://www.bread.org.
Archdiocese of Chicago Office for Immigrant Affairs & Immigration Education.http://www.archchicago.org/immigration/.
Preston, Julia. “Q. and A.: The Senate Immigration Bill.” New York Times, April 22, 2013. Accessed December 11, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/us/politics/q-and-a-the-senate-immigration-bill.html.
Photo Credit: U.S. Dept of Labor
Author, Elizabeth Collier, (Ph.D. Loyola University Chicago) is Associate Professor of Business Ethics, Brennan School of Business at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, and Co-director of the Center for Global Peace Through Commerce. Her areas of specialization are business ethics, theological ethics, and U.S. immigration law and policy.
Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is co-organizing a conference, April 9-11, 2014: "God: Theological Accounts and Ethical Possibilities," at the University of Chicago Divinity School (mainly funded by the Marty Center and free to the public). For more information, visit: http://divinity.uchicago.edu/god-theological-accounts-and-ethical-possibilities.