On Saturday, August 2, I was blessed to attend a meeting at Pueblo de Dios Lutheran Church, Compton of the Immigration/Welcoming Congregations Network. The meeting was chaired by Pastor Alexia Salvatierra, Southwest California Synod, ELCA. Key presenter was Folabi Olagbagu, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), Washington, DC. For the first part of the meeting, we were “skyped” in with several folks presently meeting at the companion ministry partner, Lutheran Church in El Salvador (Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña). After opening prayers and introductions, there were five parts to the meeting. Below is a very brief synopsis, followed by information about getting involved in this ministry and a list of key resources:
1) Live report from El Salvador. While we in turn briefly introduced ourselves, we went “live” via Skype to welcome those presently in El Salvador to the meeting. They shared a little about what the people of El Salvador are experiencing in the way of economic hardship brought on by and/or exacerbated by climate change effects, and compounded by financial pressure and violence being perpetrated by apparent extortionists in their communities who are part of a strong network of organized crime. The group in El Salvador also reported on ideas they are exploring to help congregants there develop safer ways to support and to provide for their families. They also seek the donation of a truck.
2) Testimonies. Then, we heard testimony from a young woman who with her daughter attended our meeting and had arrived in the U.S. within the past several weeks. Also, the testimony of a meeting participant with extended family in El Salvador.(†Update: LIRS blog post sharing “Mari” and “Alejandra’s” story.)
3) LIRS Presentation. From Folabi Olagbaju, LIRS, we learned about the background of LIRS and its long history of advocating for immigrants to the U.S. from the Lutheran perspective. Also, current work in advocating for immigration reform, with special concern for unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border between Mexico and the U.S.
4) Advocacy Training. Over lunch, we received a condensed training on advocacy centering around Bible-based messages of empowerment, logical arguments as contained in LIRS position papers (see below references), and appealing to the notions of justice and compassion which are foundational to Christians [as well as to followers of the world’s other major faiths*].
5) Plan: Advocacy & Guardian Angels. Alexia Salvatierra shared a plan for engaging members of the Welcoming Congregations Network to help in two important ways, and here is how you may want to get involved:
(1) To volunteer to accompany migrant children to a series of appointments where their cases will be heard in court. The purpose is to pick up the children where they are staying, surround them with love and compassion, and help them get to the proper courtroom and connect with the proper personnel. [My understanding is LIRS or others are working to arrange legal representation for the children.*] Then, to return the children to where they are staying. Immigration Court is in Downtown Los Angeles. The children may be staying in outlying areas of Los Angeles or a neighboring county. Alexia would like a list of volunteer “Guardian Angels” from each congregation by or before September 1, 2014.
(2) To volunteer to meet (individually or in groups) with local Representative(s) to U.S. Congress to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. We received a brief training on how and when to do this, especially while Representatives are in their home districts while the House is not in session during the month of August. As Alexia learns of those interested, she will follow up with particulars.
NOTE: We are not being asked at this time to foster migrant children. However, if someone wishes to do this, there is an application process about which information may be obtained through LIRS.
* Information added in [ ] represents my characterization or additional information not directly shared in the meeting.
Background/resources from meeting and from SoCalSynod website:
- Declaration from San Salvador, Sister Synods U.S.A. and El Salvador, “Migration: An Exodus to Hope“, November, 2013
- “Resources for Welcoming Congregations“
- “Responding to Immigration Concerns: Some Guidelines for Church Workers“
- “Guardian Angels Project” (from Alexia Salvatierra)
Background/resources from LIRS.org:
- “Neighbor to Neighbor Visits” toolkit
- LIRS postcard with some key talking points
- “Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform” position paper of the LIRS
- “LIRS Statement on House Leadership Principles for Immigration Reform“, January 31, 2014
- “Immigration Reform in the House of Representatives: A Piecemeal Approach” (“Backgrounder” document of LIRS with reference to various pieces of legislation)
- “Protecting Unaccompanied Migrant Children” (“Backgrounder” document of LIRS)
- “The Community Support Initiative: A Model National Project to Prove the Effectiveness of Alternatives to Immigration Detention” (“Issue Brief” of LIRS)
- “Don’t lose children in political crossfire” (Op-ed by Rev. Steve Klemz, published by The Salt Lake Tribune, quoted on LIRS blog “Redefining Welcome” by Linda Hartke, President, LIRS)