News From the IRU (Immigration, Refugee, and Undocumented Persons) Discovery Team

In previous articles, the IRU team has been sharing with you what we’ve been doing to respond to the needs of immigrants, refugees, and undocumented persons. Many of you participated in the Diaper Drive organized by the Mission Committee in July, and we thank you for that!

Since we’ve begun our work, the topic of advocacy has come up often. We decided to proceed with caution and have chosen not to participate when an organization doesn’t give enough details about a particular “ask.”

In July, we found information on the Presbyterian Church USA website about an event called Asylum Advocacy Days. This event was sponsored by the Asylum Working Group and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. Around 400 individuals from 46 states and the District of Columbia participated in around 150 virtual legislative visits; some visits were by conference call and others were over Zoom.

The five of us, Linda James, Betsy Hohlfelder, Darenda Lease, Sarah Neusius and Theresa Child, took part in two conference calls, one with a staff member from Senator Casey’s office and one with a staff member from Senator Toomey’s office.

The event was well organized. There were excellent documents prepared with data and details about our “asks.” We learned that asylum laws and policies that have been in place since as early as WWII, written to protect people who have been displaced by political, religious, or other persecution, aren’t being followed. The bills we would be asking for the Congresspersons to support are ones that would reinforce those laws or policies.

Both calls lasted about 30 minutes. During that time, we each had 30 seconds to introduce ourselves and explain what concerns us about the current asylum policies. Then a man who was granted asylum told his story and others shared their stories of working with asylees and the dangerous situations they were trying to escape. Our own Sarah Neusius spoke eloquently about how our faith teaches us to welcome the stranger and why that means the laws should be written to show asylum seekers the dignity, respect, and compassion they deserve as human beings. During the call with Senator Casey’s office, many thanked him for being cosponsor of some of the bills that were part of our “ask.” In her response, Senator Casey’s staff member assured us that he would continue to work on getting these bills passed.

Senator Toomey has not co-sponsored any of the bills, so we simply asked him to support them. We were pleasantly surprised when his staff member said that, although it is unlikely he would add his name as a cosponsor, it is possible that he would vote for them if they hit the Senate floor.

We were also asked to follow up with emails to the Senators. Linda James wrote a moving email on behalf of the five of us laying out the bills we support and why. If you are interested in reading the email she wrote, let one of us know and we will happily share it with you.

All in all, we were grateful that the Presbyterian Church USA gave us the opportunity to participate in the event. It was fantastic to work with people from different faiths toward a common goal. But most of all, we felt our participation in Asylum Advocacy Days was a great way to demonstrate how our faith informs our thoughts and actions.