Just one day after President Donald Trump issued a revised international travel ban on Sunday, members of the Yale community, scholars, activists and religious leaders gathered at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California to talk about issues of immigration.
In collaboration with Yale Los Angeles and the Yale Alumni Association, the Yale Divinity School hosted a panel conversation entitled “Humans at the Gate: A Faithful Approach to the Immigration Debate.” The discussion delved into topics like the moral implications of the immigration debate, the role that religious tolerance plays in shaping attitudes toward immigrants and the impact of both civic and religious advocacy on immigration reform.
Moderated by Stephen Pitti ’91, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, the conversation was the second installment of the Divinity School’s biannual series focusing on major national issues. The talks are held in cities with a special connection to the issue being discussed. In April, the Divinity School hosted a panel in Chicago that focused on religious responses to gun violence in Chicago and around the country.
“One of the major goals [of the panel] is to make sure that the voice of progressive Christianity is not absent in the [immigration] debate,” Dean of the Divinity School Greg Sterling told the News. “I’m worried that the far right oftentimes is the sole voice that is heard, and I think that the far right has too frequently let political ideology … overshadow what I consider to be basic moral concerns.”
Through the panel discussion on Monday, Sterling sought to articulate the moral implications of immigration policies, particularly for those who seriously study or adhere to the seminal texts of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Furthermore, Sterling hopes the panel shed light on the importance of preserving the United States’ role in training future leaders and scholars from around the world. Sterling added that the U.S. would be remiss if institutions of higher education in the country, such as the Divinity School, were required to give up this role due to immigration bans or the elimination of programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
This is not the first time that members of the Divinity School community have spoken out in support of immigrants and refugees. Last winter, assistant professor at the Divinity School Yii-Jan Lin GRD ’14 wrote an open letter to Trump in which she used evidence from the New Testament and Ronald Reagan’s farewell address to argue that open immigration policies increase America’s greatness. And Joel Baden ’99 wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post just days after Trump’s first travel ban clarifying both the Old Testament and New Testament’s positions on immigration.
At Monday’s conversation, which was carried out in a Q&A format, panelists stressed the importance of building alliances between different groups in society to bring about immigration reform.
Recent immigration crises have led to the establishment of unlikely alliances, with people from Muslim and LGBTQ communities uniting to support Latino immigrants and bring about real “transformative change,” said Polo Morales, political director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. And Felicia Escobar ’99, former immigration policy adviser to President Barack Obama, said that even leaders in the business sector, who usually avoid involvement in hot-button issues, have spoken out in defense of DACA in the past few weeks. Leaders of immigrant communities can also serve as important advocates, particularly when they share their stories with the general public, Escobar added.
During the panel, Isaac Cuevas, the associate director of immigration affairs at the Catholic Archdiocese of L.A., underlined the power of digital tools to enhance advocacy efforts, especially for religious organizations like the Catholic Church. Cuevas said that although the church is skilled at using emotional tactics to influence policymakers, having data to back up advocacy helps to improve the efficiency of those efforts.
At the request of audience members, panelists offered concrete actions that members of the public could take to bring about immigration policy reform. Escobar suggested attending marches and calling elected officials, while Morales encouraged dialogue and engagement with those who hold opposing views.
Cuevas, who was an undocumented immigrant for several years of his life, underlined that before policy can be altered, advocates must first alter people’s attitudes toward immigration.
“As leaders of the faith community, if we’re going to make a change, it’s not going to come from shaking people and trying to force an issue down anybody’s throat,” Cuevas said. “It’s going to be from leading by example, making people understand that there’s a human element to what this topic is.”
Cuevas added that events like the Divinity School’s discussion highlight this human element as well as the importance of reform efforts. To Cuevas, immigration advocacy is, simply put, “the Christian thing to do.”
The Divinity School will host its next conversation of the series in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4 to discuss the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Addy Feibel | firstname.lastname@example.org