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The Episcopal Church strengthens position on immigration, refugees

Posted on: July 16, 2015 12:42 PM
Immigrants from Central America arrive at a refugee centre in McAllen, Texas.
Photo Credit: Trish Motheral

By Lynette Wilson for Episcopal News Service

General Convention passed a number of resolutions aimed at protecting the rights of immigrants and refugees throughout The Episcopal Church.

Resolution D069 calls for the church to support birthright citizenship, particularly in countries where it has dioceses.

In 2010, for instance, the Dominican Republic changed its constitution removing jus soli, the right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship – an almost universal right in the Americas. The constitutional change preceded a 2013 sentence that effectively annulled the citizenship of an estimated 200,000 mainly Dominicans of Haitian descent.

In December 2014, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori traveled to the Dominican Republic to study firsthand the effects of the 2013 sentence.

More recently, the threat of deportation looms over Haitians living in the Dominican Republic and Dominicans of Haitian descent, many of whom have never visited Haiti.

Two resolutions, D053 and D058, seek to address the situation unfolding in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the former urging the Dominican Republic “to respect the dignity and humanity of those persons who are expelled.” It also calls on the church’s governing bodies to monitor the situation and determine ways the church can support the Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent who suffer in the process.

Resolution D058 calls on the church “to affirm its support of The Episcopal Church in the Dominican Republic and its Bishop Julio Cesar Holguín Khoury and the Diocese of Haiti and its Bishop Jean Zache Duracin in their efforts to provide advocacy and other succor to those affected by 2013 sentence.”

General Convention resolutions provide the framework for how The Episcopal Church and members of the Episcopal Public Policy Network engage in advocacy and social justice work.

“Educating our church body is crucial. Episcopalians should be aware of the human rights injustice that is occurring in the Dominican Republic, and be prepared to share and discuss this issue with their congregations. General Convention Resolution D058 does an excellent job providing background information on the citizenship issue, and the Office of Government Relations will publicize this resolution as well as supplemental resources for Episcopalians to read and share,” said Jayce Hafner, the domestic policy analyst for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations.

Additionally, the church will continue to support the efforts of the bishops in the Dominican Republic and Haiti to advocate and respond to the needs of those affected by the sentence, and encourage regional partners in Latin America and the Caribbean to call on the Dominican government to refrain from arbitrarily deporting any person born in the Dominican Republic with existing laws aimed at documenting identity, she added.

“Finally, we will link this extreme case of Dominican statelessness to the wider issue of statelessness around the globe, standing in solidarity with and lifting up affected communities in accordance with General Convention Resolution D069,” said Hafner.

An estimated 10 million people are stateless worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; the International Anglican Family Network is working to end statelessness through a campaign for universal birth registration; it supports global efforts to ensure compliance in countries that recognize the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In May, mothers in Texas filed a lawsuit against the state’s health department for refusing to issue birth certificates to children born in the state. In late April, House Republicans held a hearing on whether children born in the United States should automatically be granted U.S. citizenship.

In March, when Anglicans and Episcopalians gathered in New York for the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women, they met at The Episcopal Church Center for a discussion on statelessness and universal birth registration.

General Convention also adopted resolutions aimed at protecting and strengthening immigrant families:

  • D048 aims to keep families together, protecting youth and parents from deportation.
  • D077 urges dioceses and congregations to develop programs and partnerships with local agencies aimed at strengthening and supporting immigrant families.
  • D079 urges diocese and congregations to educate undocumented immigrants about their legal rights.
  • D033, “Supporting Refugee Rights in Central America,” calls on The Episcopal Church to “acknowledge the continued violence against and displacement of citizens in Central America’s Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador), perpetrated by armed state and non-state actors.”

The world began paying attention to the crisis of epidemic violence in Central America when in the summer of 2014 Honduran, Guatemalan and El Salvadoran children began arriving at the U.S. border in unprecedented numbers.

Over the last year, the level of violence in the Northern Triangle has continued to rise, its residents continue to flee to the United States, and some women and children are housed in prison-like settings in detention centers.

The resolution further calls upon “the church and regional governments to affirm and support the work of civil society and international organizations as they address the needs of the displaced in their countries of origin; support the efforts of civil society groups and regional bodies, especially the work of our sister Anglican province La Iglesia de la Region Central de America (IARCA), the Diocese of Honduras, and human rights organizations, which seek to address the root causes of violence and engage in advocacy and dialogue with their governments to serve the needs of and create safe spaces for internally displaced persons and refugees.”

It also calls on The Episcopal Church, in solidarity with IARCA, to push for government accountability in Central America; for the church to urge the U.S. government to play a positive role in strengthening legal institutions financially; and to encourage the Central American and Mexican governments to uphold the legal rights of victims.

One of the ways the church can help is to advocate for how development funds are spent, diverting some of the money from projects aimed at tourism and economic development to fund programs aimed at strengthening government institutions, explained Sarah Lawton, a longtime immigration advocate in the Diocese of California and the resolution’s proposer, in a telephone interview with Episcopal News Service.

Another way Episcopalians can get involved is through supporting the dioceses of IARCA that are working to meet the needs of internally displaced people and by supporting a pilot resettlement program to resettle people locally and regionally, she added.

Lastly, Resolution D074 calls for Temporary Protective Status to be extended to Guatemalans living in the United States and that “The Episcopal Church advocate through education, communication, and representation before legislative authorities for TPS for all immigrants fleeing for refuge from violence, environmental disaster, economic devastation, or cultural abuse or other forms of abuse.”

The Rev. Paula Jackson, rector of the Church of Our Savior in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the resolution’s proposer, was on her way to Salt Lake City for General Convention when she read about a bipartisan effort to extend temporary protective status to Guatemalans.

“Two things immediately caught my interest: One is that any bipartisan effort in Congress is so remarkable these days, especially an effort to help immigrants and their families. The other is that there are quite a few Guatemalans in my parish whose lives (and the lives of their children) would be immediately improved beyond description by such an action,” said Jackson, in an email to ENS.

“U.S. citizen members of our parish have accompanied numerous Guatemalans along their varying journeys through immigration court over the past decade. We have learned that Guatemala is rated as perhaps the second-worst country in the world for violence against women, and has a similar dire rating for violence against indigenous peoples. We have learned about the helplessness of courts and law enforcement against extortion and retribution as a way of life in the rural mountains and in the cities.”

Read more about the International Anglican Family Network and the universal birth registration campaign.