Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Immigration Reform Is for Our Neighbors

Harold Heie


“On the Ground” is a new Capital Commentary column that will be published occasionally, featuring the stories of citizens working toward public justice in their local communities. 

August 26, 2011
by Harold Heie

 The possibility that Congress will reach agreement on comprehensive immigration reform appears to have vanished, at least for the near future. A formidable challenge is that immigration law is primarily legislated at the national level—where immigrants are too easily viewed in impersonal terms—whereas the implementation of such laws takes place at the local level—where immigrants are our neighbors who we are called by Jesus to love. These neighbors live next door to us, worship with us in our churches, and go to school and play soccer with our children and grandchildren.

This is not to suggest that immigration law should be legislated locally. The consequences of these laws, intended or unintended, on the well-being and flourishing of our immigrant neighbors should inform all future national deliberations on immigration reform.

Therefore, local communities across the nation need to listen to the stories told by their immigrant neighbors and listen to the reports of accomplishments and obstacles from those in their communities who seek to provide services and support for these neighbors within existing law. If the results of such local initiatives can gain a hearing with our national politicians, then there may be a glimmer of hope that they get beyond the ever-present quest for political advantage, and legislate in ways that will help our immigrant neighbors—and our civil society—to flourish.

Some of us in northwest Iowa are taking such an initiative. As a complement to the excellent work of CASA (Center for Assistance, Service and Advocacy) throughout Sioux County, the American Reformed Church in Orange City will be hosting a series of eight sessions, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM on consecutive Wednesday nights, starting on September 21, 2011 and ending on November 9, devoted to the theme “Christian Perspectives on Immigration in Northwest Iowa.”

We will start this series with stories from three members of the immigrant community regarding the joys and challenges they have experienced as immigrants, to be supplemented by an offering from the Orange City Public Library of a compilation of immigrant stories, including publications from the Hispanic Story Project that is co-funded by Northwestern College and the Iowa Writing Project at the University of Northern Iowa.

These stories will be followed by a survey of biblical teachings pertinent to immigration issues, with theological reflections provided by clergy from the Reformed and Roman Catholic Christian traditions. An immigration law attorney from Sioux City will then help us to understand existing immigration law and some options for future reforms.

The remaining sessions will focus on the stories of accomplishment and failure of those within our community who are deeply involved in implementing existing immigration law and providing support and services to our immigrant neighbors, including law enforcement officers, representatives of local businesses that employ immigrant workers, those involved in the education of immigrants and their children, and those who provide social services to the immigrant community.

Given that immigration issues are often contentious, we expect to hear much disagreement in the Q&A periods that will conclude each of our sessions. We will welcome such disagreements, since one of the major purposes of our series is to model respectful conversation as an antidote to the nasty nature of much current public discourse. From the very outset, all attendees will be encouraged to aspire to certain “ideals for respectful conversation,” that include a willingness to “listen well” to others, seeking to empathetically understand the reasons behind their points of view, a willingness to explore the possibility of finding some common ground relative to these controversial issues, and, where we must just “agree to disagree,” to do so in a manner that respects the other person and does not foreclose the possibility of ongoing conversation. (Elaborations on these ideals can be accessed on my web site,

For those who live within driving distance of Orange City, you are cordially invited to attend any or all of these Wednesday night sessions. For those living in other communities across the country, you are encouraged to take similar initiatives to enable the voices of the immigrant community and those who labor to support them to gain a hearing in all future deliberations on immigration reform.

—Harold Heie is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College in Wenham, MA and a former Trustee of the Center for Public Justice.










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