” The words belong to Julia A. Thorne, the immigration attorney who serves the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as manager for immigration issues.
Her workshop audience came to learn about the denomination’s ongoing concern and advocacy for the plight of the United States’ immigrant population, particularly the undocumented segment — one that government estimates place at 12 million men, women and children.
Thorne continued: “The best heart I have ever known is a compassionate one.”
On the job since July 2005, Thorne described her role, created by the General Assembly in 2004, as having three parts:
* Advisory: She is the denomination’s expert literally in the field. Though she has curtailed her travels somewhat since her early days in the position, Thorne is still on the ground and in the field learning and gathering first-hand knowledge to strengthen her capacity as chief expert for the denomination.
* Education: “Debate should be about knowledge, not about rhetoric,” Thorne said, citing a statistic she has developed: 15 percent of the population is strongly pro-immigration reform, 15 percent is 180-degrees opposite and the remaining 70 percent do not have a strong preference either way, are on the fence, or do not have enough information to make a sentient decision. While it is not practical for her to be the “immigration attorney” for every presbytery, she does bring her message to the pews through her several PowerPoint presentations, more of them available online.
* Advocacy: “I want the PC(USA) to be to the immigration reform movement what the Quakers were to the abolitionist movement,” Thorne said. She can often be found in Washington, D.C., bringing the GA’s message to elected officials. Frequently, she is on a conference call with the White House’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives. She is often teamed with members of the broad-based Interfaith Immigration Coalition, proving that despite differences on other issues, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations can come together and agree that U.S. immigration policy needs reform. Thorne is proud to quote one senator who acknowledges this coalition as a “very powerful faith voice,” a salient point. “More and more secular entities are turning to churches for help in this debate, saying ‘We want to work with your powerful voice,’” Thorne said.
In the workshop, Thorne also addressed those who wonder why immigration reform is important to the PC(USA) or suggest that the matter is simply another social justice issue. She references a recent Pew Foundation for Religion and Social Life study which projects that by the year 2040, Caucasians in the United States will no longer compose a majority of the population. With more than 90 percent of the PC(USA) membership being Caucasian, immigration reform is a front-burner issue that cannot be ignored.
Thorne pointed out that the number of “immigrant churches” is increasing, often with upwards of 50 percent of the members being youth. “The future of the PC(USA) is immigration. If the mission of the church is to always reach out to the community, just because the community is different doesn’t change the need to reach out. Only when we come together do we see the full face of God.”
Jim Nedelka is a professional journalist in New York City, an elder at West-Park Church and a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.