July 6, 2017
By Blake Tommey
ATLANTA — “When the church moves, the church can make a difference,” Alexia Salvatierra, a representative of the Matthew 25 Movement to protect and defend vulnerable immigrants, told Cooperative Baptists June 30 at the CBF General Assembly in Atlanta.
Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor with more than 35 years of experience in community ministry and legislative advocacy, addressed a workshop at the 2017 Assembly and shared tools to engage in the Matthew 25 Movement and the broader interfaith Sanctuary Movement to shelter and advocate for the lives of immigrants.
If any group in the United States is called to care about others and poised to protect vulnerable immigrants at this pivotal moment in history, it’s the church, she said.
“Ultimately, the only way we can protect them is by changing federal public decisions, and to do that, you have to change hearts and minds. And the only way I know to change hearts and minds is by amplifying the voices of the people most affected…that’s when we get it. You also have to reveal the broken system and you have to let people know that there are bipartisan solutions. Then, you have to call for obedience to God.”
With 73 percent of evangelicals in support of immigration reform in the United States, Salvatierra said, the church can make a difference and help produce a compassionate immigration system by resourcing itself through the Matthew 25 Movement. First, however, the church must understand the problem.
“Most people in this country, no matter where you are in the political system right now, know that our immigration system is ineffective; it doesn’t really work,” Salvatierra said.
“If you get a step closer, you know that it’s profoundly illogical…you get a step closer than that, and you find out that it’s also profoundly inhumane. There are very few categories through which you can come to this country, very few lines you can stand in, and there are problems with all of them.”
Three of the most destructive problems with the U.S. immigration system, Salvatierra said, include an impossibly restrictive work visa program that does not legally allow for the amount of unskilled labor required to propel the American economy.
Second, she noted, the system inflicts extravagant punishment on DREAMers, or minors who enter the country illegally, if they are found to be living undocumented in the U.S. for more than a year.
Finally, the system’s asylum program provides no resources for those fleeing for their lives to the U.S. who get approved at the border. More than anything, Salvatierra added, these and other broken systems are nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.
When we understand the problem and help others understand, Salvatierra continued, we must advocate for individuals and families on local, state and regional levels, including opening dialogue with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which local churches across the country are initiating through the Matthew 25 movement.
Churches can also be there for families when parents are deported and children are left stranded in the United States, she added. And local congregations can shelter undocumented immigrants facing deportation as part of the legal and often misunderstood principle of sanctuary, or God’s remedy for an unjust response to a crime until there can be a fair hearing for that crime, Salvatierra said.
The Faith-Rooted Organizing UnNetwork, for which Salvatierra serves as coordinator, continues continue resource congregations in their efforts to protect and advocate for immigrants across the United States.
“When the church moves, we can do it,” Salvatierra said.
“It’s you learning about this, if you feel moved when you leave today to really research, to really talk to immigrant brothers and sisters, to really find out this truth for yourself, and then you have the courage to communicate it to others, that’s how the country will change. That’s the heart of it — that kind of education.”
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.