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July 25, 2014

Stop Jailing So Many Immigrants

by the Rev. Paul Lubold, LAMPa Advocacy Developer

Last August I attended a Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) “Lutheran Leader’s Summit” in Minneapolis. The “Summit” provided us with current information about the ministry of LIRS, as well as valuable insight into the everyday struggles of those who are seeking to become citizens. I went to this event feeling like rather well informed, but found out how naive I was.

Linda Hartke, President and CEO of LIRS and Stacy Martin, VP for Mission Advancement, told us what LIRS was doing. And Jon Partee, LIRS Media Relations, helped us recognize what we could do to help share the LIRS story. Along with LIRS staff presentations, we heard from Eric Shwarz, current Dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and former Secretary to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He gave us a more global perspective on the importance of opening the U.S. to those seeking entry; and he underscored the value people around the world place on the work of LIRS.

Bill Blazar, Senior VP, Business Development & Public Affairs, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, spoke about the key role that immigrant workers play in the agricultural and business worlds. He suggested that the presence of immigrants in the workforce posed no threat to the already troubling unemployment statistics.

Part of the “Summit” involved field trips to either a Detention Center or an Immigration Court. I went to there; and before we witnessed people going before a Judge, we spent time hearing from and talking with a current (sitting) Judge, a retired Judge, and the Administrator of the court. The three of them shared their personal accounts of how broken and dysfunctional our immigration system is, and how desperately the system is in need of comprehensive reform.

The numbers were telling of the ‘need,’ Recent immigration laws have greatly increased the number of people going through the legal system, while at the same time, budget constraints have left fewer and fewer staff in the judicial system. The increased backlog in the immigration courts is staggering, at times causing people better than a year to have their cases heard.

I came home from the “Summit” thankful to God that when my ancestors came to the U.S. from Sweden, it was a simpler time; and while it may not have been an easy transition for them, it was a great deal easier than it would be at this point in time.

The following link is an Op-Ed from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Stop Jailing So Many Immigrants” about my experience.
– See more at: http://www.lutheranadvocacypa.org/blogs/lampa-op-ed-stop-jailing-so-many-immigrants/#sthash.V8mVngwf.dpuf

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