On Immigration, Let us Herald New and Welcoming Communities

The Judeo-Christian heritage provides a lens through which we view and treat immigrants not as outcasts but as our neighbors. We have an historic, spiritual and biblical tie to migration. From Genesis onward, the journey of migration is critical in shaping the paths of Abraham, Moses, Joseph and Ruth, who fled due to persecution, famine, death of loved ones, slavery, economic need and family.

Mary, Joseph and Jesus also migrated due to government decree, threats of death and to follow God's call. Jesus' ministry was spread migrating from town to town, and Paul's dedication to spreading the good news often led to his deportation. As we reflect on these migrant journeys in Scripture, particularly as we head towards Christmas, let our Advent this year be about expectant waiting and preparation for a reform long-sought, heralding new, whole, welcoming communities.

The immigrant experience today in the United States is plagued by a dysfunctional system in real need of repair. Congress has a rare opportunity to exhibit moral courage to alleviate the suffering faced by immigrant communities and to provide our nation a workable and sustainable immigration system.

But as we end the year 2013, what is the likelihood of that being accomplished? Why has the Speaker of the House said it just won't happen?

President Barack Obama has reiterated his call for the House to pass immigration reform, and Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican who proudly stood with the faith community to call for immigration reform in early October, became the first Republican to co-sponsor H.R. 15, the House's version of the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill. Several other Republicans have followed Denham's lead. By nearly all counts, there are more than the 218 votes needed to pass an immigration bill. All that is needed is for House leadership to put immigration reform up for a vote.

Why won't they? The momentum in the push for immigration reform is still so strong, especially among people of faith.

Recently, more than 300 clergy, lay leaders and immigrants across the country came to Washington for a CWS Global Summit on Immigration Reform. As part of those efforts, I and others visited more than 100 congressional offices, including those of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. My colleagues from the United Methodist Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Jewish tradition also facilitated prayerful direct actions in the offices of House Speaker John Boehner and Reps. Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan.

We remain keenly aware that immigration reform is not the end of our struggle for immigration rights. Instead of looking at any bill as either fully meeting or failing to meet our expectations, we must see pieces of legislation as opportunities to expand the movement for immigrants' rights.