Op Ed: Defund hate, support immigration policies that prioritize family unity

This op-ed was written by our Executive Director, Rev. Jason Wells.

See this op-ed as printed in the Friday, September 4 edition of the Concord Monitor.

In New Hampshire, the movement to support our immigrant families is strongly faith-led. Organizations like the N.H. Council of Churches, the American Friends Service Committee, Jewish-led Never Again Action NH, and the interfaith Immigrant Solidarity Network led by Granite State Organizing Project and more cooperate with prayer vigils, sanctuary churches, and jail visitation programs.

Engaging with our deepest religious and spiritual values, we call on our elected officials to defund the hate in our immigration system.

The N.H. Council of Churches is made up of nine diverse denominations of churches, totaling nearly 400 congregations in the Granite State. In our unanimous Joint Statement on Immigration, we affirm that: “Our religious traditions also point us toward care and concern for immigrants. The first books of the Bible chronicle the wanderings of the Hebrew people in their search for a land where they might find safety and peace. In the New Testament Jesus taught that the practice of welcoming the stranger is as essential to a just society as is feeding the hungry (Matthew 25:35).”

Because of our reliance on these sacred scriptures, we see the hatred enshrined in our nation’s over-funded immigration enforcement agencies such as ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations and Customs and Border Protection.

How do Christians judge these systems as hateful? With Jesus’s maxim, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Only systems rooted in hate produce the real harm and fear visited on New Hampshire’s immigrant families. In my role as executive director of the N.H. Council of Churches, I have seen many examples here in the Granite State of the fruit of hateful systems: I have prayed with families in Manchester’s ICE office, sitting with their fear of not knowing if this would be their last day together as a family. I have prayed with an Indonesian grandmother at the Strafford County Department of Corrections as her eyesight failed due to the stress of incarceration on her medically-vulnerable body. I have tried to comfort a young boy, bullied in our public schools after his father was deported to Mexico.

These kinds of harm are the fruit of hateful systems. As a Christian, I believe in the power of prayer and remain committed to our prayer vigils and faith-based public witnessing. But this doesn’t take away our elected officials’ responsibility to change these systems. A saying often-quoted in sermons reminds us of the work we must do: “Faith can move mountains, but don’t be surprised if God hands you a shovel.”

What, specifically, can be done to defund hate?

We call upon our members of Congress to cut funding for ICE and CBP for Fiscal Year 2021. On multiple occasions, our elected officials have expressed sadness and anger at the separation of families and the Trump administration’s human rights violations at the border. But they have continued, year after year, to approve increased funding for the very agencies that implement these cruel policies.

If our budgets are an expression of our values, then continuing to invest billions of dollars for the president’s anti-immigrant agenda has got to stop. Congress will need to approve a continuing resolution to fund various agencies for the new fiscal year, so now is the time for our U.S. senators and representatives to be champions for immigrant families in New Hampshire, by cutting the funds for agencies which terrorize our communities.

Also, our legislators can prevent ICE and CBP from spending money allocated for other purposes, such as disaster relief, on detention and deportation. Most every pastor knows that if you receive money designated for the food pantry, then it is immoral and unethical to spend that money to enrich yourself. We can and should hold publicly allocated money to the same moral standard that we expect from the smallest village church in New Hampshire.

Following the N.H. Council of Churches’ Joint Statement on Immigration, these are only a few of many possible concrete steps that we can take to ensure that our immigration policies “uphold family unity as a priority” and that they “align … with humanitarian values.” As churches, faith communities and other people of conscience who stand with New Hampshire’s immigrant families, our most deeply held religious, spiritual, and constitutional principles demand nothing less.