Skip to content
ELCA Blogs


Guest post from David Atkinson…..

No matter where one’s views fall on the spectrum of thoughts about immigration issues, members of our Lutheran faith family should be extraordinarily disturbed by the massive displacement of individuals and families across the globe.  Not only are countless lives tragically upended, and the health and welfare of adults, children, and babies put at extreme risk, but they face manifest danger and intense discrimination in seeking the chance for resettlement.  Granted, the world is full of troubles that seem immune to ready solutions.  Yet, we cannot dismiss these human tragedies from our hearts and minds as too distant or too complicated for our concern and compassion.

A frequent question is: What can I/we do?  A good answer is to go back to the basics – the power of prayer.  Commendably, Church World Services, an increasing presence in our region, has developed a Worship Guide for reflecting and praying for the tens of millions displaced persons.  The ELCA has taken on a role in circulating it.

The guide begins with applicable Bible verses, offers sermon starters, a variety of prayers, a litany prayer, prayer points for personal use, responsive prayer, hymn suggestions, and reflections, which involves a refugee simulation exercise.  The old saw about putting oneself in the shoes of another has not lost its relevance.  The meaning has increased in this age of bombast and belligerence.  This guide is incredibly directed and utile.  It is worth taking a look at and considering making a part of devotions.

In our Tree of Life congregation, concerns in other parts of the world are always incorporated into the prayers of the church during worship services.  As with many parts of the worship service, we can fall into the trap of hearing the familiar but not really listening.  When the significance is brought to our notice afresh, it hopefully causes us to think, and perhaps to respond.

By informing our minds and softening our hearts, prayers for refugees remove the issue of displacement from the hard world of partisan political discourse and bring it back to scriptural context.  We can view the crisis through the lens of our religious beliefs, rather than our political associations.  That plants the seeds for meaningful response, be it advocacy, volunteering, or contributing financially or materially.

The more deeply we become informed on immigration issues, the greater our appreciation for the dedicated organizations who are doing everything within the realm of possibility to welcome those who manage to find their way to America’s doorstep.  The realization sinks in that there are many ways in which we can contribute constructively and live out the precepts of faith and stewardship.  This is the often not so apparent blessing – the chance to bear witness – for which we should be grateful daily.  We often think of prayer in terms of prayer requests, but here prayer can be a motivator for caring and giving.  Will we prayerfully accept the challenge of going forth?

Urgent Need for Congregational Accompaniment of Afghan refugees


At the end of August, we watched with anguish the fall of Afghanistan’s government and the evacuation of thousands of Afghan refugees to U.S. military bases called safe havens. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reminded us of the critical need for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) engagement:

“Afghan families coming to the United States will need support for months, not just for days. And we need to call on our congregations to be sponsoring entities for the months to come. Join us in supporting the ‘long welcome’ for these families.”

Not since World War II, when Lutheran congregations resettled 57,000 refugees, and the end of the Vietnam conflict has the United States been faced with the formidable challenge of resettling 100,000 refugees who have arrived at the same time.

Since their arrival at safe havens, Afghans continue to be processed and rigorously screened on military bases. These individuals and families are then referred to resettlement agencies before continuing to their next destination. Operation Allies Welcome was created to coordinate their arrival, assistance and resettlement with the help of agencies such as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Church World Service (CWS) through its affiliates.

In this season of Advent, as we wait for the coming of our refugee Savior who was forced to flee his birthplace as a tender baby, ELCA congregations are urged to help resettle these vulnerable people.

Across the country, many congregations have already begun working with their local resettlement agencies and are sponsoring Afghan individuals and families, in addition to the many asylum-seekers currently being sponsored within the AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities) network. But the need is huge and right now. We call on congregations to see how they can engage in this important effort.

The following resources provide more information about how you and your congregation can get involved:

  • An information session will be held February 8, 2022, at 6 p.m. Central time
  • Local organizations, such as Lutheran social service agencies or other resettlement affiliates, are great resources for congregations looking to meet the needs of refugees in their communities.
  • The Refugee Council USA has posted a map that pinpoints local resettlement agencies, including Lutheran social service affiliates, which may direct you to volunteer opportunities.
  • The Reception & Placement Affiliate Directory provides a detailed state-by-state listing of resettlement agencies.

The ELCA has long and historic ties to LIRS and CWS, two of the nine resettlement agencies in the United States.

The ELCA and LIRS are working closely on resettlement in five U.S. cities. LIRS has resettlement operations in 53 cities across the country. The Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director of Service and Justice, will convene ELCA bishops to see how each synod can support resettlement.

CWS is focusing its efforts in additional cities around the country where it has affiliates and a program of remote refugee resettlement, which will allow every congregation, no matter how far from a resettlement agency, to get involved in this important work.

In addition to synod and congregational accompaniment, the ELCA has provided a $77,250 grant to ACT Alliance / Community World Service Asia to provide emergency cash assistance to 9,000 Afghan families in-country and those at the border of Pakistan. Contributions can be made through Lutheran Disaster Response’s Afghan Humanitarian Crisis effort.

In this Advent season, we urge all ELCA congregations to follow our Lord’s call to welcome the stranger by joining this important effort and taking steps to welcome refugees.


Why can’t immigrants apply for citizenship? A reflection shared with AMMPARO

I see that the focus is on the limited and highly restricted avenues for applying. That’s a powerful indictment of our “system” and will be revealing to many who believe it’s a much more straightforward process than it actually is, or who think the rules from decades ago, like marry a citizen and become a citizen automatically, still apply. I wish the section on applying for adult family members had also mentioned that the wait time can approach three decades, and the sponsoring family member must still be alive when approval is finally granted. Rosa and I thought about sponsoring her son, Armando. At the time, I was almost 60. What were the odds I’d still be alive at 90, or that he’d want to come to the U.S. for the first time when he was 64?


Another part of the “why” is the sheer number of ways to apply, each with its own stupefying set of criteria around who can and can’t use that avenue, documentation required, etc. I recently attended a seminar on immigration put on by CLINIC. I had some idea going in about the complexity of picking the right avenue and what the ramifications of each option might be, but I quickly learned it’s a lot worse. For example, someone who crossed the border at an immigration checkpoint and wasn’t asked to show a passport or visa actually entered the country legally. That one sticks with me, but even with extensive notes, I couldn’t correctly answer half the questions they posed about hypothetical scenarios.


In any case, I think finding the “right way” to apply is less than half the mental and emotional battle. An understanding of what likely comes next could, and maybe should, be a bigger factor in an immigrant’s decision about whether to try to apply the “right way.”


One factor is the fear of being “in the system.” Undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. are, to varying extents and at times entirely, unknown to “the system.” These immigrants may believe the risk of being deported, including being banned from returning for as long as the rest of their life, goes up if the system knows too much about them. In my ESL class, I have students who won’t get the COVID vaccine, not because they’re anti-vaxxers, but for fear of being “in the system.” An undocumented immigrant who’s been here without incident for many years makes a strong case with family members and friends for choosing to remain undocumented.


Another factor has to be cost. I know you know, but application fees are steep and the odds of success go way down without a lawyer. We tried to apply for a lifting of restrictions on our own and were denied (after over 6 months in process). When a lawyer got involved, however, Rosa was magically and quickly approved, despite minimal changes to the application itself (some folks in our congregation wrote letters attesting to our relationship and another member notarized them). Our lawyer told us he had no idea why we were rejected based on what we had originally submitted. His theory was just that someone at USCIS had a bad day. I think there’s more to it than just having a bad day. The process and rules for approving changes in status are secret and aren’t required to be applied uniformly across all applications. It also wouldn’t surprise me if agents were given objectives for denying a certain percentage of applications, but since it’s all a secret, conspiracy theories like mine will prevail.


Applying can also require multiple in-person trips back to the applicant’s country for documents related to their birth, marriages, divorces, where they received vaccinations, criminal background checks, etc. In Rosa’s case, that meant traveling to both El Salvador and Nicaragua (three times), only to find on her return, for example, that her certified vaccination records from Nicaragua weren’t acceptable. We then paid to have her re-vaccinated. Her doctor literally said it was “stupid” – it’s hard to disagree. One also hass to pay a certified translator to translate every document into English. And for many, aside from the costs involved, traveling to their home country puts a successful return to the U.S. at risk.


Last but not least, for immigrants who hired a coyote to get them to the U.S., even those who arrived alive, hoped for asylum, and immediately surrendered to border patrol, they have already spent their family’s life savings and likely secured a significant amount of money from loan sharks. They have no more money to spend.


Rosa had and was able to convert her tourist visa, but complying fully with the letter of the law cost us over $17,000 all in – fees, lawyer, travel, unnecessary vaccinations, translations, apostille seals, etc. When it came to getting her U.S. citizenship, we were very fortunate that Rosa had enrolled in English classes at Journey House. Their Citizenship class, for which Journey House charges nothing, included a scholarship to pay the application fee.


Bottom line, $17,000+ was a lot of money for us. For immigrants who are aware of the potential costs, not to mention the booby traps and limited opportunities, I’m sure it looks easier and safer not to do so.

Helpful graphic on the history of immigration

Click image to view larger.

History of Immigration

Here is a very good history of immigration which helps us to see the whole picture:

History of U.S. Immigration



Spreadsheet that lists COVID-1 resources

Here is link to a spreadsheet developed by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition continually updated to show resources available to migrants suffering from the pandemic: