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Bishop Address Press Conference on Immigrant Farm Workers

Dear Readers: I participated in a Press Conference this morning at the State Capital, sponsored by the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society. The occasion was the release of a statement by the VEC on the subject of Immigration. I have included a copy of the Council’s statement at the end of this post. What follows immediately are my comments at the Press Conference:


Vermont Ecumenical Council Press Conference – Immigration: October 22, 2012

Good morning.

The specific context for this statement on immigration from the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society is the challenge here in Vermont to respond to the plight of resident immigrant farm workers. We believe these brothers and sisters, as well as their contribution to our economy and their role in helping Vermont sustain our iconic dairy farms, our orchards and nurseries is worthy of our attention.

The larger context for our statement is our theological understanding of the God-given dignity of every human being coupled with the Biblical imperative to provide hospitality to strangers. We speak today from the confidence of our faith as Christian disciples of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ own teaching that calls us to respond to immigrant workers and their plight as if they are Jesus himself: “Whatsoever you do to the least of these my sisters and brothers that you do unto me.” (Matt 25:35). The gospel calls us to build community, not walls or fences which separate God’s people from each other.

As citizens of the United States, we recognize the legal complexities surrounding the many issues connected with immigration at this point in our nation’s history. We acknowledge that Christians, like other citizens of our state and country hold a variety of views with regard to appropriate and effective policies leading to fair and just solutions to these questions. Nonetheless, we believe there is an important moral dimension to this conversation and we seek to bring our voice to that conversation, a voice that is determined to help the people of Vermont approach immigration not so much as a problem to be solved but as a reality to be understood and embraced within the context of God’s purposes.

We also believe it is important to name the larger context which impels people to leave their homes in search of work in a strange and often hostile country. Simply put, poverty drives migration. As Christians we seek to address the many faces of poverty wherever they impact our world and its people.

There are many positive indicators of our commitment here in Vermont to embrace the moral imperative to treat one another with dignity and infinite respect. The fact that most Vermont farmers do not exploit their workers is a testament both to their basic decency and the efforts of the workers themselves in alliance with Vermont advocates. Also, the willingness of Vermont law enforcement and government officials to listen, learn and act to do the right thing has resulted in real advances in how our immigrant neighbors are treated.

These are positive directions for Vermont but we acknowledge there is much more to be done before the obligations of our Christian faith are satisfied. And we know that we ourselves have often fallen short of our own best aspirations to embrace the stranger in our own communities of faith.

We hope and pray that this statement, along with other supporting material, will be a positive contribution to the public conversation on this important subject. We hope and pray that it will inspire the people of our churches, people from other faith traditions and indeed Vermonters from all walks of life to deepen our awareness and understanding of the realities of immigrant workers, our connections with them as fellow human beings possessing the same God-given dignity of every other human being, and their many contributions to our communities.

The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont and Trustee of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society



Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society
Statement on Immigration

I was a stranger and you welcomed me, (Matthew 25:35)

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:17-19)

The Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society unites in calling for just and fair national, state and local policies and action regarding immigrants, the strangers amongst us. We are called by our Christian faith to ensure that immigrants seeking relief from poverty, discrimination and/or persecution, or who simply wish to become members of our communities, who are contributing to the richness and welfare of our rural economy, find welcoming hands and hearts and a supporting social, legal and political environment.

“One of the most consistent truths taught in Sacred Scripture is that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jesus is totally inclusive, no one individual, no group of people of whatever race or nation is excluded from God’s plan of salvation and his realm of love. When we say Our Father, we are acknowledging that there is but one God, the parental source of all human persons. We are all members of the family of God, and as such, we are all brothers and sisters.” Vermont Ecumenical Council, Statement on Racism: “Brothers and Sisters Together” 2008

There is great uniformity across denominations on this issue, as reflected in the following statement:

Holy Scripture teaches us that all human beings are made in the image of God and that Jesus Christ gave his life for all people. Furthermore, both the Old and New Testaments declare the importance of hospitality to resident alien and strangers, a hospitality that rests on our common humanity. All human beings are therefore deserving of dignity and respect, as we affirm in our Baptismal Covenant. So our gracious welcome of immigrants, documented or undocumented, is a reflection of God’s grace poured out on us and on all.”
–The Episcopal Church, House of Bishops Pastoral Letter: “The Nation and the Common Good: Reflections on Immigration Reform,” September 21, 2010.

The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

There are approximately 1200-1500 immigrant workers* in Vermont who sustain our iconic dairy farms, our orchards and nurseries. These men and women play a key role in making those enterprises economically viable. Without their labor, according to a staff member of the Vermont Farm Bureau, we could “kiss Vermont’s landscape goodbye” as many farms would fail and be sold for development.

The majority of these immigrant workers come from Mexico and Guatemala. They seek work to earn money to send back to families and communities they leave behind. U.S. immigrant workers send more than 20 billion dollars annually back to Mexico, enabling families to feed themselves and perhaps educate their children.

Immigrant workers benefit Vermont farmers, the state’s rural economy, and people living in poverty in their home country. How they are treated while in Vermont is not simply a legal issue, but also a moral question. What obligations do we have toward these men and women?

As Christian citizens of the U.S., we must confront attitudes of cultural superiority, indifference and racism, accepting immigrants as persons with dignity and rights, who reveal to us the presence of Christ.

We must recognize our complicity in creating and maintaining unjust economic rules and practices. In a democratic country, government acts in our name and with our tax dollars. Our concern as Christians for the dignity and rights of immigrants extends beyond public policy issues to see the face of Christ crucified and risen in the stranger.

*We use the term “immigrant worker” to emphasize that most of the people we are discussing come from other countries to work in Vermont. The term “migrant worker” can mean someone who moves from place to place within their native country, often performing seasonal work. Those immigrant workers employed on Vermont dairy farms may not have work visas as the U.S. Government only issues 10 month agricultural visas while dairy farms operate 365 days a year.


{This statement was written by The Peace, Justice, and the Integrity of Creation Committee of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society and approved by the Board of Trustees on September 27, 2012.}



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