Faith-Based Principles for Immigration Reform

In March 2004, a Multi-Faith Border Conference was held in Tucson. There No More Deaths presented its principles for immigration reform and the opportunity for involvement in its first desert-aid campaign that coming summer. On April 19, Arizona Interfaith Network pastors and leaders joined Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson and many other faith representatives on the lawn of the Arizona Capitol Building to urge the government to enact these principles.

Preamble: We come together as communities of faith and people of conscience to express our indignation and sadness over the continued death of hundreds of migrants attempting to cross the US–Mexico border each year. We believe that such death and suffering diminish us all. We share a faith and a moral imperative that transcends borders, celebrates the contributions immigrant peoples bring, and compels us to build relationships that are grounded in justice and love. As religious leaders from numerous and diverse faith traditions, we set forth the following principles by which immigration policy is to be comprehensively reformed. We believe that using these principles—listed from the most imminent threat to life to the deepest systemic policy problems—will significantly reduce, if not eliminate, deaths in the desert borderlands.

  1. Recognize that the current Militarized Border Enforcement Strategy is an ill-conceived policy. Since 1998 more than 7,000 migrants [as of 2014]—men, women, and children—have lost their lives in the deserts of the US–Mexico borderlands trying to make their way into the United States. These tragic and unnecessary deaths must stop. The border blockade strategy has militarized the US–Mexico border, which drives migrants into remote desert regions yet has failed to stem the flow of immigrants into the United States. Further, the fragile desert environment has sustained severe damage as a result of migrants moving through remote desert regions and responding enforcement patrols. Indeed, a militarized border control strategy has never in United States history successfully stemmed the flow of immigrants. We recognize the right of a nation to control its borders, but enforcement measures must be applied proportionately, humanely, and with a conscious effort to protect the people and the land.
  2. Address the status of undocumented persons currently living in the US. Workers and their families currently living in the US must have access to a program of legalization that offers equity-building paths to permanent residency and eventual citizenship for workers and their families. Legalizing the undocumented workforce helps stabilize that workforce as well as their families. A stable workforce strengthens the country.
  3. Make family unity and reunification the cornerstone of the US immigration system. Migrants enter the United States either to find work or to reunite with family members, yet the arduous and lengthy process forces families to make potentially deadly choices. Families must be allowed to legally and timely re-unify as well as to immigrate together as a unit.
  4. Allow workers and their families to enter the US to live and work in a safe, legal, orderly, and humane manner through an Employment-Focused immigration program. International workers’ rights must be recognized and honored in ways that protect: the basic right to organize and collectively bargain, individual workers’ religious freedoms, job portability, easy and safe travel between the US and homelands, achievable and verifiable paths to residency, and a basic human right of mobility.
  5. Recognize that root causes of migration lie in environmental, economic, and trade inequities. Experiences of Mexico and countries further south demonstrate that current trade and aid strategies that are based on greed and lack of basic respect deeply and negatively impact workers, their families, and the environments in migrants’ homelands. This is forcing a quest-for-survival-based migration of unparalleled proportions. International agreements must be negotiated in ways that build mutual and just relationships. Such agreements must be designed to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ abilities to meet their needs. New strategies must include incentives for the public and private sectors to invest in economic and environmental repair and sustainable development in the sending communities.