By Dr. Susanna Snyder
Keeping up with immigration issues anywhere is like trying to catch an eel with your bare hands. Newspapers run a story about it almost every day, in one form or another, and just when you think you’re getting close to understanding what’s going on, new legislation or procedures are initiated or something happens to an immigrant somewhere you hadn’t imagined was possible.
Take a look at what’s going on in Massachusetts at the moment. A bill currently under review in the State House—S2061 Act to Enhance Community Safety—is likely to have serious effects on immigrant communities if it is passed. Similar to laws passed in Alabama, Georgia and Arizona, it is designed to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deport undocumented immigrants. Among other things, it would allow law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people arrested for certain offences—such as driving under the influence.
But what has religion got to do with all of this, though?
At one level, religious organizations are among the most prominent advocates for (and against) immigration inclusion. For example, Boston New Sanctuary Movement, a coalition of interfaith leaders and congregations that supports immigrants, states: “We people of faith support fair and just changes to our immigration system. People who have worked hard here without documents for years deserve to have legal residency and a path to citizenship.”
At another level, religion plays a large part in the daily lives of many immigrants. From providing a source of spiritual comfort, meaning, and community to practical support in the form of English language classes, accommodation, or legal advice, faith and faith-based organizations can be invaluable to new arrivals as well as those who have been living in the country for many years.
The Migration, Theology and Faith Forum, based at Episcopal Divinity School, was set up to bring migrants, activists, and academics from different disciplines together to discuss these important issues. The MTFF will hold a symposium, “Borders and Transnationalism: Religious Perspectives,” on Friday, March 23, from 1pm to 4:30pm, to explore some of the intersections between religion and migration.
Speakers at the symposium will explore such questions as how migrants are drawing on their faith and negotiating religious identity and practice—both on their journeys and after they arrive in the U.S. and what role faith-based organizations are playing in terms of practical support and advocacy—in support of and against immigrants? It will be multi-faith as well as interdisciplinary—with papers on Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. Some participants will reflect on the root causes of migration while others will discuss what happens at the border or when people have arrived in the United States.
No matter how you feel about the complex issues related to immigration, it’s important that we come together to learn more, especially as the situation is changing every day.
Dr. Susanna Snyder is Assistant Professor in Contemporary Society and Christian Ethics at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.