Faith groups have played an active role in the immigration debate for decades, issuing statements on proposed policies and caring for new arrivals to the United States. This work has continued over the last two years with increased urgency, as President Donald Trump cracked down on illegal immigration and limited legal entry, as well.
In the name of national security, the Trump administration has banned travelers from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, made it harder to request asylum, separated immigrant children from their parents and threatened to revoke federal funding from immigrant-friendly U.S. cities. More recently, the fight over funding for Trump’s planned border wall led to a partial government shutdown.
In the midst of these developments, conservative and progressive faith groups have continued to serve immigrants and refugees. Some have stepped up their political activism, opening their houses of worship to illegal immigrants and leading protests along the U.S.-Mexico border.
This edition of ReligionLink reviews the Trump administration’s major actions related to immigration and how faith groups responded. It also highlights people who can help you as you continue to explore the religious significance of immigration laws.
The Trump administration's major immigration decisions
Note: Many of these actions were blocked by federal judges soon after they were announced and haven’t yet gone into effect.
- Jan. 25, 2017: An executive order on public safety directed the attorney general to block sanctuary cities from receiving federal grants.
- Jan. 27, 2017: An executive order limited travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Dubbed by opponents as a “Muslim ban,” the executive order was later updated by the Trump administration and upheld by the Supreme Court.
- Sept. 5, 2017: Trump announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was launched by President Barack Obama to protect young people who had been brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
- Nov. 6, 2017: The Department of Homeland Security terminated temporary protected status for Nicaragua, effective Jan. 5, 2019.
- Nov. 20, 2017: The Department of Homeland Security terminated temporary protected status for Haiti, effective July 22, 2019.
- Jan. 8, 2018: The Department of Homeland Security terminated temporary protected status for El Salvador, effective Sept. 9, 2019.
- April 6, 2018: Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance policy” on illegal immigration, which was later used to justify family separation.
- April 26, 2018: The Department of Homeland Security terminated temporary protected status for Nepal, effective June 24, 2019.
- May 4, 2018: The Department of Homeland Security terminated temporary protected status for Honduras, effective Jan. 5, 2020.
- June 20, 2018: An executive order ended family separation at the border.
- Nov. 9, 2018: Trump issued a proclamation on asylum-seekers stating they must come through a port of entry.
- Dec. 22, 2018: A partial government shutdown began because of a battle over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Read “Edith Espinal has spent 18 months hiding from ICE in a church. How much longer will the authorities let her stay?” from The New Republic on Jan. 17, 2019.
- Read “Oklahoma Church Erects Fence Around Nativity Scene to Protest Trump Border Policies” from The New York Times on Dec. 21, 2018.
- Read “At least 30 faith leaders arrested in border protest” from Religion News Service on Dec. 11, 2018.
- Read “Michigan rabbi leads caravan of faith to help immigrant kids in Texas” from the Detroit Free Press on Nov. 16, 2018.
- Read “‘This is not a crisis. This is a long-term disaster:’ Family separation is the latest eruption in an ongoing story” from Sojourners on Aug. 16, 2018.
- Read “How Trump is changing the face of legal immigration” from The Washington Post on July 2, 2018.
- Read “Christian leaders divided on Trump border policy, family separations” from the Houston Chronicle on June 22, 2018.
- Read “Why Rank-and-File Evangelicals Aren’t Likely To Turn On Trump Over Family Separation” from FiveThirtyEight on June 21, 2018.
- Read “Conservative Religious Leaders Are Denouncing Trump Immigration Policies” from The New York Times on June 14, 2018.
- Read “U.S. Catholic bishops blast Trump’s immigration crackdowns” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 13, 2018.
- Read “Dozens of nuns, other Catholics arrested advocating for immigrants” from Religion News Service on Feb. 27, 2018.
- Read “How Americans see illegal immigration, the border wall and political compromise” from Pew Research Center on Jan. 11, 2019.
- Read “Data Shows How Passionate and Partisan Americans Are About the Border Wall” from PRRI on Jan. 8, 2019.
- Read “5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.” from Pew Research Center on Nov. 28, 2018.
The Rev. Noel Andersen is the national grass-roots organizer for Church World Service in Washington, D.C., and works to encourage church participation in the sanctuary movement. He is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor.
Kay Bellor is the vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Arrange an interview through Danielle Bernard.
Lacy Broemel is a refugee and immigration policy analyst for the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations. Contact her through the denomination’s website.
The Rev. Jen Butler is the founder and CEO of Faith in Public Life, a progressive, faith-based organization that advocates for better policies on immigration, LGBTQ rights and other issues, and often speaks out against President Donald Trump’s leadership. She is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and previously served as chairwoman of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. Contact Butler through Michelle Nealy.
Sister Simone Campbell is executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C. She has organized several “Nuns on the Bus” trips, raising awareness of issues like immigration reform and economic justice. Contact her through Lee Morrow.
M. Daniel Carroll Rodas is an Old Testament scholar at Denver University. He is the author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church and the Bible.
The Rev. Ben Daniel is pastor of Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, Calif. He is the author of Neighbor: Christian Encounters With “Illegal” Immigration.
Lucy Duncan is the director of friends relations for the American Friends Service Committee. In December 2018, she was arrested with other faith leaders during a protest along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Ashley Feasley is director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs.
Franklin Graham, the fourth child of Billy and Ruth Graham, is president and chief executive officer of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and of Samaritan’s Purse, a relief organization. He often speaks out in support of President Donald Trump, celebrating his approach to religious freedom, border security and other issues. Arrange an interview through Kaitlyn Lahm or Scott Knuteson.
The Rev. Daniel Groody is an associate professor of theology and global affairs at the University of Notre Dame and director of the global leadership program within the university’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies. He is an expert on migration and refugee issues and has consulted for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Congress and the Vatican.
Jacqueline Hagan is a distinguished professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include religion and migration. She is the author of Migration Miracle: Faith, Hope and Meaning on the Undocumented Journey.
Mark Hetfield is the president and CEO of HIAS, or Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. HIAS is active on the ground in Poland and Moldova coordinating with Jewish organizations in those countries who have been taking in Ukrainian refugees. Arrange an interview through Bill Swersey.
James Hoffmeier is professor of Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern history and archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. He’s also the author of The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible.
Erol Kekic is the senior vice president in charge of the immigration and refugee program for Church World Service, a faith-based organization focused on issues like poverty, displacement and disaster relief.
Farhana Khera is the president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national organization working to protect Muslims’ civil rights.
Peggy Levitt is a professor of Latin American studies and sociology at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., and an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. She is the author of several books, including God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape.
The Rev. Joel Miller is pastor of Columbus Mennonite Church. Since August 2017, his church has offered sanctuary to Edith Espinal, who would have been deported without the faith group’s help.
Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which works to foster “a culture in which all human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.” He also leads the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which tracks religious persecution around the world.
He has supported Trump’s efforts to increase border security.
Sister Norma Pimentel is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She advocates for immigrant rights and cares for men and women along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has criticized conservative evangelicals who have spoken against or have remained silent on immigration and argued that the August 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, was driven, in part, by anti-immigrant rhetoric. Arrange an interview through the Kairos Co.
Matthew Soerens is the U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief and national coordinator for Evangelical Immigration Table. He is the the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis and Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate.
Imam Omar Suleiman is founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and an adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Southern Methodist University. He is also the resident scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center in Irving, Texas.
Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a faith-based organization that tracks how Christian denominations respond to issues such as religious liberty, LGBT rights and immigration and often advocates for a more conservative approach.