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For common sense

Immigration reform best for all by BY CLINT SCHNEKLOTH SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETT | August 9, 2013 at 4:12 a.m.

For three years, our family served as missionaries with our denomination (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in Slovakia.

When you live in another country, you get to experience firsthand a couple of things. First, you experience what it is like to be a stranger in a host nation. You learn the emotional and intellectual struggle of learning a new language, becoming acclimated to a new culture, experiencing the hospitality practices of that place.

You also get to experience how the country deals with immigrants from a bureaucratic, legal perspective. You go fill out paperwork, work with immigration officials, fill out more paperwork. It opens your eyes in many ways.

We know that our immigration to Slovakia was simplified by the help of our colleagues and the Lutheran church there. Teachers took us to the immigration office, helped translate paperwork, and were our ambassadors in many, many ways. They were our cultural brokers. When we returned to the United States, I knew I wanted to do everything I could to help immigrants and refugees coming to the United States feel as welcomed as we did when we were in Slovakia.

This is why it is my profound hope that the U.S. House of Representatives will soon adopt comprehensive immigration reform that reflects our faith, a faith that calls us to welcome the stranger.

We need look no further than other states in our region to know that the piecemeal approach to immigration reform has failed.

Alabama, where the extreme anti-immigrant law HB 56 drove away productive workers, recently showcased this by ranking dead last in economic terms among southeast states (as defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis). This dismal showing contrasts with the billions of dollars in net economic benefits Arkansas gains from immigrants, according to extensive research by the Migration Policy Institute, the University of Arkansas, and Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina.

Arkansas has much to gain from comprehensive immigration reform.That’s why now is the moment for the House to repair our broken and harmful immigration system by passing a complete reform bill. Now that the Senate has passed a respectable reform bill, S.744, the ball is in our U.S. representatives’ court.

How would such a bill look? First, it should extend an earned roadmap to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship for undocumented people and their families. It should further guarantee the humane and just enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, specifically by lessening the use of immigration detention and widening community support programs.

We also need this bill to protect families from separation and offer an adequate supply of visas for families seeking to reunite. Moreover, an effective bill would offer adequate resources and protections to help ensure the successful integration of refugees and other vulnerable migrants. Finally, we need a House bill that boosts the protection of U.S. citizen and migrant workers.

Immigration reform of this kind can affect the world right where I live. I am proud to serve as a pastor in an

Arkansas community with a recent and strengthening history of welcoming immigrants. Springdale has one of the fastest-growing Hispanic communities in the country. Northwest Arkansas is also home to the largest Marshallese population outside the Marshall Islands. Our part of Arkansas, like the Southern states more generally, is diversifying daily with the steady influx of immigrants.

This is cause for celebration.

Immigrants to this country who live in Northwest Arkansas contribute to our economy, and share values with us of faith and family and hard work. In this light, it’s no surprise that our faith community and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce have a shared value-to increase the percentage of the Hispanic population in our city-understanding that immigrants strengthen our community and improve our work force.

I want our nation to be a country that receives immigrants compassionately, welcoming them with open arms. In this, I’m far from alone. Along with Lutherans across the country, I’m united with the majority of Americans who are calling for reform that keeps families together and offers a roadmap to earned citizenship for 11 million aspiring new Americans. Now is the time for our U.S. representatives to show that they can lead the way in solving this decades-old problem. Arkansans need them to make a bipartisan effort that puts our national interests first. Let’s pray that they act with wisdom, but let us also be strong and united in our calls for common-sense, compassionate and comprehensive reform.

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The Rev. Dr. Clint Schnekloth serves as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville.

Editorial, Pages 15 on 08/09/2013

Print Headline: For common sense

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