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Sonja Birthisel is the director of the Wilson Center for Spiritual Exploration and Multifaith Dialog at the University of Maine.
As a child, I attended Sunday School at St. Ansgar Lutheran Church in Portland. There, I was taught that each human being is equally beloved and precious in the creator’s eyes. As an adult, I’ve passed on this lesson and many others at the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono, where I lead the middle-high school youth group.
Both the old and new testaments make clear statements on how we should treat “the stranger,” a word often used to describe people from outside one’s home community.
The Book of Leviticus (19:34, New King James Version) says that strangers to one’s land should be met with kindness and support: “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.”
I am not suggesting that my faith, or anyone’s, should dictate our laws. But the values-based perspective I share here stems from my faith. My deep commitments to equity, kindness, and caring for others motivate me to write today supporting the pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients known as “Dreamers,” Temporary Protected Status holders and undocumented essential and agricultural workers proposed in the human infrastructure bill that Congress is negotiating now.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been humbled to see so many people stepping up to care for one another — from Dr. Nirav Shah and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to those running mutual aid networks to frontline workers showing up to often low-paying and sometimes dangerous, but essential, jobs every day in order to keep society functioning.
More than 5 million undocumented immigrants have been among the frontline workers caring for us during this pandemic. In fact, more than two-thirds of all undocumented immigrant workers serve in frontline jobs in “essential” industries, including healthcare, home care, transportation, agriculture, food production and construction.
Many of Maine’s essential workers are immigrants who have no path to citizenship, and they show up to work with the knowledge that their futures are uncertain. This has documented mental and physical health impacts that do further violence to people who, in many cases, left their countries of origin due to violence, war or poverty. Essential workers also have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19.
Right now, Congress is negotiating spending packages that will invest in both our physical and human infrastructure, and we have a rare opportunity to ensure everyone is included. The human infrastructure portion of this legislation includes a pathway to citizenship for “qualified immigrants.” This is understood to include immigrant youth (DACA recipients), holders of Temporary Protected Status and undocumented agricultural and other essential workers.
These are our friends and neighbors, equally precious in the creator’s eyes, and deserving of the same rights I enjoy: The right to a voice in our participatory democracy, as well as the sense of stability and permanent belonging citizenship affords and a life free of the ever-present fear of detention or deportation.
I hope you will join me in urging Maine’s congressional delegation to include a path to citizenship for undocumented essential and agricultural workers, TPS holders, and DACA recipients in this important legislation.