General Convention to consider endorsing ‘migration with dignity’ principles

By David Paulsen
Posted May 7, 2024
Asylum-seeker in Chicago

Alejandra Perez, center, a Colombian asylum-seeker, waits in November 2023 for a train after leaving a church where she received donated clothes for herself and her children in Chicago, Illinois. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] The 81st General Convention is considering at least three similar resolutions that would commit The Episcopal Church to supporting a global policy framework known as “migration with dignity.”

Eight people testified in favor of the resolutions May 7 at an online hearing held by the Social Justice & International Policy committees. Several of those testifying shared stories from their dioceses’ work with migrants, asylum-seekers and others fleeing war, violence, persecution, economic deprivation and the effects of climate change in their native countries.

The Rev. Sandra Castillo of the Diocese of Chicago, who identified herself as the child of Mexican immigrants, estimated that about 38,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago, Illinois, in the past two years, many of them asylum-seekers – “who we consider a blessing to our community,” Castillo added.

She referenced the Gospel reading scheduled for Sunday services on May 12, in which Jesus prays to God, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine. … Protect them from the evil one.”

“Our undocumented immigrants, our new arrivals, refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants fleeing persecution, violence and global warming caused primarily by our developed countries, they are among the people Jesus speaks of and they face unjust and evil systems,” Castillo said.

Sandra Castillo

The Rev. Sandra Castillo, a priest in the Diocese of Chicago, testifies in favor of “migration with dignity” resolutions at May 7 hearing on Zoom.

The three resolutions discussed at the May 7 hearing differ yet overlap in much of their language, and the committees likely will combine them into one resolution before voting to recommend the measure for consideration by the full House of Bishops and House of Deputies when they convene June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Resolution C013, proposed by the Diocese of Northern California, would acknowledge that “grave and serious mistreatment of ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees is on the rise” and would direct the church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations to following the principles of migration with dignity in its advocacy with the U.S. government.

Resolution C015 proposed by the Diocese of California and Resolution C022 proposed by the Diocese of El Camino Real go into greater detail by listing some of those principles and basic human rights, including movement, identity, religion, personal safety, legal equality and access to work, housing, food, health care and education.

Those testifying in favor of the resolutions included attorney Carl Bruch of the Environmental Law Institute, who co-authored a research paper on migration with dignity published in the Journal of Disaster Research that was cited by El Camino Real in its resolution. He argued it was helpful for The Episcopal Church to rise above politics in making the nonpartisan case that migrants are people and “as such they have rights enjoyed by all.”

“I think that the church has incredible moral power” in advocating “a more humane approach to thinking about migrants,” Bruch said. “I think it can also help to focus attention on parts of the migrant experience that often are lost.”

The Very Rev. Matthew Woodward, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, California, told how his congregation joined its community’s response last year to the unexpected arrival of groups of migrants by planes chartered from Florida.

“A group of religious and community groups came together to help them. We helped as best as we could,” Woodward said while lamenting that such migrants had been “commodified” by elected leaders in other states to score political points. “We were appalled that these people with life stories, hopes fears and a variety of motivations were being used as a part of that discourse.”

Nicholas Gordon, an alternate deputy from the Diocese of New York, echoed Woodward in describing Episcopalians’ response to an influx of migrants to New York since last year. The church’s approach has been “compassionate, welcoming and intentional,” Gordon said, in keeping with past practice. “Communities across the Diocese of New York have welcomed new arrivals for decades,” he said, though the large numbers of migrants have been met more recently by “a severe breakdown in city and state engagement.”

“Faith communities have been asked to step up in a big way,” Gordon said.

And the Rev. James Richardson, a deputy from the Diocese of Northern California, recalled the experience in 2018, during the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas, when Presiding Bishop Michael Curry led a procession of Episcopalians in prayer and action outside a detention facility where migrant women were being held.

“On that day in that place, we stood against the prevailing politics of our land,” Richardson said. “We are still called to stand against the prevailing politics of our land.”

The 79th General Convention passed several resolutions related to migration in 2018, including one that aimed to “set forth Christian principles to guide responses to human migration.” The 2018 resolution also calls for the church’s continued representation at the United Nations and engagement with other multinational consultations and faith communities on refugee and migrant issues. The migration with dignity resolutions do not mention more recent UN frameworks such as the U.N. Global Compact for Migration, or recent participation by The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion in the Global Refugee Forum.

General Convention, the church’s bicameral governing body, divides its authority between the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. To review, revise and recommend proposed resolutions, each house assigns members to parallel committees focused on about two dozen legislative topics. Though distinct, the bishop’ and deputies’ committees typical meet jointly for hearings and deliberations, which since the pandemic now happens mostly in advance of convention.

Additional information on resolutions and hearings before the Social Justice & International Policy committees can be found on the Virtual Binder website.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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