During the height of immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border into Arizona that resulted in hundreds of immigrant deaths and mass deportations, I travelled with a group of college students participating in a weeklong immersion trip focused on immigration injustices. We met with religious activists in the United States, talked with service providers at religious shelters in Mexico, and shared dinner in church buildings with recently deported immigrants. We were led by a faith-affiliated organization born in the 1980’s Sanctuary Movement that is mostly staffed by religious persons and housed in a building laced with religious imagery, from crosses to a portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
This past June, President Obama took executive action to defer the deportation of “Dreamers”: undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, are under 30, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and have no criminal records. The policy represents a small but important victory for immigrant rights activists, many of whom are religious. Their religiosity is worth noting for two reasons. First, in an age when the dominant public image of religion is often politically and theologically conservative, this serves as a reminder that “progressive religion” is not an oxymoron. Second, increasing immigration to the U.S. is transforming American religion, altering dominant traditions through the integration of new immigrants and diversifying the general landscape through the growth of religious traditions like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Some estimates suggest that 40 percent of Catholics in the U.S. are now Mexican or Latin American immigrants.1 This religious context forces even majority-native-born religious groups to recognize the suffering of immigrants in their midst, evidenced by efforts like the Catholic Justice for Immigrants campaign. Continue reading