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From Long Island Wins: September 17, 2010

Welcoming Strangers: Immigration and Faith

On Long Island, our faith communities have provided significant moral leadership on the issue of making Long Island more welcoming to immigrants, and for immigration solutions that will make our area stronger. This month, I caught up with one of those leaders, Reverend Tom Goodhue, a United Methodist minister and the executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches.

MS: How are immigration and faith related?

TG: All of our faith communities tell us to show compassion to the most vulnerable among us. In the Christian faith, you’re supposed to remember that your ancestors were sojourners themselves, and you’re supposed to defend other sojourners, the vulnerable population.

MS: Are there certain immigration policies that most people in your congregation agree on?

TG: I think there’s a broad consensus among most United Methodists about immigration reform, similar to the consensus among most people. The current system is broken, and we need serious reform. There ought to be some way for employers to bring workers here legally, and these folks should be able to go home without having to sneak across the border. There’s a consensus that there should be some path to citizenship for the undocumented.

MS: Does the Bible deal with immigration?

TG: One of my favorite stories from the Jewish scriptures of Christianity is the story of Ruth. She and her mother-in-law become immigrant day laborers on a farm when their land is in the middle of a famine. Ruth becomes accepted into the community, and she eventually becomes an ancestor of David. Christians would say she’s an ancestor of Jesus, too.

MS: Aside from moral reasons, are there practical reasons for religious groups to be accepting of new immigrants?

TG: As communities change, congregations either welcome new immigrants or they die. If you don’t welcome the people that are in your community or are coming into your community, you’re going to have an empty building soon. The whole history of Long Island is of successive waves of immigration, and the congregations that thrived are the ones that learned how to adapt to that.

MS: What are the challenges that faith leaders face when talking about immigration?

TG: Among a lot of religious leaders there’s a reluctance to grapple with the issue, which is pretty understandable. In some faith communities, if you say something that people don’t like, they could theoretically sack you the next day. Also, in places where the issue is really divisive, like Farmingville, it’s difficult to plunge into it because feelings are running high.

MS: Thanks, Rev. Goodhue. We hope that all of our faith leaders can step up against hate and intolerance in the way that you have, and support good immigration policy.

Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the campaign director of Long Island Wins, a campaign promoting policy solutions to local immigration issues. Visit their website at