In recent weeks, the story of Antonio Vanegas has gained national attention. Antonio, a 26-year-old undocumented food service worker, has suffered from wage theft for the last two years while working in the Ronald Reagan Building. His employer, Quick Pita, was paying him significantly less than the minimum wage and in cash — one way in which unscrupulous employers avoid paying billions of dollars each year in wages and payroll taxes. Now, after publicly speaking out against his employer, Antonio has been fired from his job and faces a deportation hearing next month.
Unfortunately, Antonio’s story is all too common, given our broken immigration system — it’s something the organizers at Interfaith Worker Justice affiliates see across the country. Indeed, undocumented immigrants are some of the most vulnerable workers when it comes to wage theft. No doubt this is because employers know these workers face a double-bind. Either they can suffer wage theft and other forms of exploitation in silence or they can speak out and risk deportation. This situation keeps many undocumented workers from reporting workplace abuses, allowing corrupt employers to drive down wages and giving them an unfair advantage over ethical employers who obey the law.
As the push for immigration reform moves to the House of Representatives this week, many folks are hoping to convince skeptical Republican law-makers to approve a path to citizenship on fiscal grounds. Antonio’s story, on the other hand, illuminates the moral and religious costs of our current immigration policy.
All 233 Republicans in the 113th Congress belong to the Judeo-Christian tradition — and many of them aren’t shy when it comes to bringing their faith to bear on policy issues. Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio), for instance, has said that his actions in congress reflect his Catholic faith. And Rep. Eric Cantor (R – Va.) has claimed that “my faith goes with me in everything I do.” Boehner, Cantor, and their fellow Republicans would do well to look at what their sacred texts have to say about welcoming the stranger in our midst.
Consider, for instance, Leviticus 19:32-34: “If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself — for you were once strangers yourselves in Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.” It’s certainly hard to see this principle at work in Antonio’s case. By failing to “count him” as one of our “own countrymen,” we’ve allowed him to be exploited in exactly the way that we’re called upon here to avoid!
As Boehner, Cantor, and other Republicans discuss their strategy on immigration reform, Americans of all faith traditions need to remind them that all religions believe in justice. We should urge Speaker Boehner to heed the call of Archbishop José Gomez who, on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged the “House of Representatives to follow the U.S. Senate’s lead and pass a comprehensive reform bill as soon as possible.” And we should remind Rep. Cantor that The Rabbinical Assembly of conservative movement that Cantor was raised in has also called upon congress to pass an immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship.
And these aren’t the only religious leaders calling for a compassionate immigration policy. Muslim-American leaders with the Islamic Circle of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have also added their support for a humane immigration policy. Even evangelicals have come around. In May, the Evangelical Immigration Table — a coalition of more than 170 evangelical leaders — reiterated their call for lawmakers to pass a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship.
Clearly, if lawmakers on Capitol Hill are serious about living out their faith, they need to pass a compassionate immigration reform bill that includes a path to full citizenship, so that we can truly welcome the 11 million “strangers” in our land.
Please join Interfaith Worker Justice by calling your Representative today and asking her or him to support compassionate immigration reform, not just because it makes good economic sense, but because it’s the right thing to do. (You can also follow our campaign on twitter by using the tag #faith4cir.)
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post, July 10, 2013, co-published with Kim Bobo.