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Immigration orders unite local faith leaders

February 16, 2017 | Indianapolis Recorder | Link to Article

Various faith leaders in Indianapolis have united to announce their support for fellow Hoosiers negatively impacted by recent presidential orders restricting immigration. 

On Sunday hundreds of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith leaders gathered at St. Phillip Neri Catholic Church for the Public Action for a City of Inclusion event, sponsored by the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network, also known as IndyCAN.

They voiced their concerns about new executive orders from President Donald Trump requiring the federal government to ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The orders have also ramped up enforcement efforts against individuals whose immigration status may be questionable.

Event organizers say that so far, the new immigration policies have opened the door to increased discrimination against immigrants of all backgrounds, but especially Muslims and people of color.

“As a faith organization, our clergy and leaders are compelled to oppose unjust, racist and harmful policies that are designed to separate families,” said Rev. Linda McCrae, pastor of Central Christian Church and an IndyCAN member. Faith leaders and human rights activists shared their concerns with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, who was in attendance and told them that he will make every effort to ensure that the city is welcoming to everyone who wants to live in peace and work to make a better life for themselves and their families.

“I vow that no one in our city will be stripped of privileges that are rightly secured to them as members of this community,” he told the crowd of more than 500 in the packed church. Hundreds more gathered outside the church in a display of solidarity.

To rousing cheers, Hogsett added that he would work alongside IndyCAN and the City-County Council for a resolution that would prohibit city and county resources from being used to help enforce the new federal policies, which have been challenged by federal courts as unconstitutional. 

That was important to those in attendance because it means that although state law prohibits Indianapolis from declaring itself a sanctuary city, it can still join Cincinnati, Nashville, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Birmingham and over 600 other jurisdictions that have promised to avoid using local resources to enforce what some say are unconstitutional requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain non-citizens who not charged with any crime.

IndyCAN has particularly spoken out against a practice known as “ICE holds,” where local jails are asked to hold immigrants after they are supposed to be released, even if there is no warrant to justify them having been detained in the first place. Federal courts have declared the practice illegal and a violation of the 4th and 5th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“We will challenge, at every turn, any policy by the Trump administration that is contrary to our faith and values,” McCrae said. “We will create dozens of rapid response teams, train our members on their constitutional rights on bystander intervention and generally be a public witness for justice.” Indiana has an estimated 93,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute and nearly 64 percent of those of working age are employed. 

IndyCAN’s response to the federal executive orders is part of a growing debate taking place among faith leaders across the state on how religious organizations should respond. In Richmond, a city in the eastern part of the state, another multi-racial group of pastors spoke out about the executive orders – this time in support of them. Last week, the pastors spoke out against Mayor Levar Stoney’s directive ordering city police to continue its practice of not checking the immigration status of people they come across.

“We are here to help everyone who comes and asks for help, but we are also citizens who have to abide by the laws of the land,” said Bishop Leon Benjamin of Richmond’s New Life Harvest Church.

Benjamin and the other pastors expressed concern about the safety of the city’s legal residents and the possibility of Richmond losing vital federal funding. However, a group of faith leaders in Columbus, the home city of Vice-President Mike Pence, stood with IndyCAN in support of people who could face discrimination due to changes in immigration policies. 

In a letter to the city’s main newspaper, the diverse group of pastors wrote that in light of biblical and religious teachings that encourage them to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” they condemn “in the strongest possible terms” Trump’s order banning refugees from majority-Muslim countries. 

Recently, the pastors welcomed a family who arrived from war torn Syria, and they called on the president and Congress to not use the legitimate need for national security “as a cover” to promote ethnic and religious discrimination.

They wrote, “We call on everybody in the United States, whether one has lived here for generations or just a few days, to see the image of God in one another, for we are all children of God called to live in peace.” 

IndyCAN has launched a 40-day “Santuary and Solidaity” movement during the Lent and Passover season that will involve at least 30 member congregations taking some kind of action everyday to “protect vulnerable communities” from racial profiling, mass deportation and adverse changes in healthcare.