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World Refugee Day, A Day to Proudly Practice Solidarity

By Giovana Oaxaca

World Refugee Day is observed annually on June 20th.

This is a time to honor the courage and resilience of refugees worldwide. Because of growing displacement due to conflict, climate change, and insecurity around the world, it’s more important than ever before to raise awareness about the plight of refugees, to advocate for justice, and to show solidarity with refugees and those seeking legal recognition as refugees, such as asylum seekers.

You can show solidarity with refugees by expressing that you believe in a world where refugees are welcomed. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matthew 25:35) powerfully underscores biblical call to show hospitality. Lutherans have a long history of extending hospitality to refugees, having welcomed and assisted refugees through resettlement agencies for almost a century. The work of welcome continues.

Since the 2016 adoption of the ELCA Accompanying Migrants with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities (AMMPARO) strategy, more individuals have gotten involved in the work of welcome as Welcoming Congregations. Across the country, there are 254 welcoming and sanctuary congregations and 35 synods with organized groups involved in AMMPARO. Altogether, there is activity involving accompaniment in 59 of the 65 synods in the ELCA. Significant developments around the world served as a catalyst for AMMPARO to connect globally with ELCA companions and partners to further accompany, protect, and advocate for migrants, displaced people, and refugees living outside of the Western Hemisphere.

Legacies of Welcome

At the base of the Statue of Liberty lies an inscription that reads as a statement of the nation’s values. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Emma Lazarus’ poem created a contrast to a sentiment of exclusion and prejudice against people from other countries that was manifest in anti-immigrant legislation adopted in those times. Emma’s poem was dedicated to the Statue of Liberty just a year after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in Congress, becoming the first federal law that limited immigration from a particular nationality.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. The Johnson-Reed Act, or National Origins Act, severely limited immigration through percent country quotas that strongly favored Northern Europeans, disfavored Eastern and Southern Europeans, and excluded Asians for immigrant visas entirely. The 1924 law, writer Jia Lynn Yang says, changed the country forever.  Anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia fueled a strong attention to preserving the United States’ ethnic and racial homogeneity. At its essence, this is what the 1924 law did. The parallels with the rhetoric used then, and the rhetoric used today to justify restrictions, often by individuals who lack a comprehensive understanding of the arduous journey it takes to emigrate ‘the right way,’ are deeply concerning.

The 1924 quotas remained unchanged even as Jewish refugees, and other minorities, began fleeing Nazi persecution. The Jewish passengers of the M.S. St. Louis, desperate to find sanctuary in 1939, were refused by the United States under the system of quotas and forced to sail back to Europe.

The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 was eventually passed, for there was growing concern about displacement of people of all faiths from Europe. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 worked by borrowing against future quota allocations. American Lutherans, other Christians, and Jewish Americans played a key part in appealing to President Truman to pass this law.

Refugees did not gain distinct international legal recognition until the United Nations adopted the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The convention created a new international legal framework to define and protect the rights of refugees. The convention defined a refugee as, “a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” The U.S. was not a signatory, but later joined the 1967 protocol which together with the 1951 convention, form the basis of refugee protection to this day. Watch this Video Explainer  to understand who refugees are.

While the national origins quotas were done away with in 1965 and replaced with higher visa caps with priority given to family and skills-based immigration, the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act that ushered this change was the culmination of robust civic dialogue and intense geopolitical pressures. The civil rights movement was highly influential in the American public rejecting ethnic and racial discrimination. Furthermore, internationally, the U.S.’s restrictionism was more and more at odds with foreign policy objectives.

It was not until passage of the 1980 Refugee Protection Act, however, that U.S. efforts to resettle refugees became systematized and formally aligned with international frameworks. The Refugee Protection Act established the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

To this day, very few people understand how the immigration system came to be, much less the important victories that won the refugee protections we have now. Or consider the enduring legacy of hospitality woven throughout U.S. history. Fewer understand that it is mostly major pieces of legislation, passed in the 1990’s, that undergird most modern immigration discourse. This makes it even more important to vigorously defend refugee protection and champion immigration reforms that bring the immigration system into alignment with the principles of fairness and generosity (ELCA Social Message on Immigration, Pg. 7)

Everyday individuals continue heeding the call to welcome. Welcoming new neighbors has opened new channels of dialogue, raised mutual awareness of each other, and fostered a deeper sense of community. Were it not for the bold steps of the leaders before us, the U.S. would not be a place where, centuries on, the Statue of Liberty still stands as a beacon of hope and opportunity.


Broadening our shared awareness of the challenges faced by those displaced from their homes leads to more effective support and advocacy. The UNHCR’s Global Trends Report indicates that at the end of 2023, an estimated 117.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing the public order. Based on projections, the number of displaced is likely to have exceeded 120 million by the end of April 2024.

Listen to the podcast series “Living as Neighbors” shared by the Lutheran World Federation amplifying stories of welcome.

In their own words, these refugee storytellers recall their memories of home, reflect on what solidarity means to them, and share their dreams:

The news of people seeking asylum at the southern border dominates the headlines. Who are they? These are individuals who have a legal and human right to seek asylum.

  • Read this fact-sheet to understand the basics of asylum and who asylum seekers are.
  • Since May 2024, a slate of new policies and legislative proposals have threatened the legal and human right to seek asylum. Read this briefing about the latest asylum restrictions.


Supporting generous refugee and immigration policies responds to the biblical call to seek justice, peace, and protection for all of God’s people, including those uprooted from their homes. Take Action by calling on your elected representatives to support:

  • The Afghan Adjustment Act: This bipartisan bill would provide stability and security to Afghans in the United States. Take Action here.
  • The Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act: This bill would help asylum seekers meet their basic needs while their asylum claims are adjudicated. Take Action here.
  • Robust Refugee and Immigration Funding Next Year: In Fiscal Year 2025 Congress must robustly fund domestic and overseas programs that promote stability and human dignity and expand U.S. communities’ capacity to successfully welcome refugees and other newcomers. Accounts such as Refugee and Entrant Assistance (REA) account and the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) are essential to expanding this capacity. Funding for the International Disaster Assistance account (IDA) is key to save lives and prevent internally displaced people from needing to flee their home countries and become refugees.
  • Join the Welcoming Refugees 2025 campaign to show welcome to refugees by asking your local or state elected leaders to support a robust refugee admissions goal. Join the campaign here.

Share Your Story

Share a video, quote, or audio message about your experience being welcomed to the U.S. and how you are working to make your community more welcoming and inclusive for others. Raed AbuJries, AMMPARO program manager for U.S. Network, education, and communications shares an example of a transformative immigration experience being an immigrant from the occupied West Bank to the United States. Read his story here.


Pray for justice for refugee and migrant children and families. Here are some examples.

Witnessing Cruelty and Compassion on a Dominican Highway

By Stephen Deal

With three traveling companions, we were nearing the end of a long drive from Santo Domingo (the capital of the Dominican Republic) to Dajabon on the Dominican border with Haiti. Our trip had been marked by delays: the morning rush-hour traffic as we left Santo Domingo, a major traffic tie-up at a toll booth where the electronic payment system was down, a herd of cows blocking the highway.

We thought the worst was behind us when we rounded a curve and came upon the scene of a recent truck accident. A large crane was just beginning to lift the container portion of a tractor-trailer out of a ravine. Both lanes of the 2-lane highway were blocked. We had no choice but to wait until the crane finished the job and the highway could be reopened.

Notwithstanding the midday heat and humidity, I decided to get out of our vehicle to stretch my legs. A small group of curious onlookers had already formed to watch as the crane went about its work.

Suddenly, an oddly-shaped white truck drove to the front of the line on our side of the accident site. At first, I only saw three men in the cab of the truck. My first thought was, “What makes them so special that they can go to the front of the line?”

When they got out, all three turned out to be Dominican immigration officials. In that moment, I realized that their vehicle was part of the fleet of vehicles used by Dominican immigration authorities to expel undocumented Haitians, or those suspected of being undocumented migrants, back into Haiti at border crossings such as Dajabon.

I decided to inspect the rear portion of their truck more closely. When I got to the back, I came face-to-face with the anguished, exhausted faces of men, women and children who had been packed into the truck’s cargo space. Inhumane doesn’t begin to describe the conditions in which they were being transported.

No one was seated, not even the children. They were packed in, shoulder to shoulder, so tightly that no one could move (or lose their balance). The only source of ventilation was the cage-like wiring across the rear of the vehicle. The people at the very back of that “mobile cage” could breathe, albeit with difficulty; those packed into the interior of the truck must have been suffering terribly from the heat and lack of oxygen.

Most of the motorists who had gotten out of their vehicles continued to pay more attention to the crane operation than the plight of the “human cargo” in the immigration vehicle, with one notable exception. There was a Dominican woman who was not going to stand idly by; she was determined to do something to alleviate their human suffering. I never got her name but I’m going to call her “Amparo”.

She began going vehicle-to-vehicle, knocking on car windows and asking motorists to donate whatever water they could. I went back to our vehicle and collected all the water bottles we had, full or not. The water bottles that the two of us collected weren’t enough for everyone in the cargo space of that truck but it was enough for those at the very back, including the children. Their parents thanked us.

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Mt 10:42 – NIV)

It was evident that these detainees were not only dehydrated, but also hungry. “Amparo” and I decided to go back to the motorists in that line of cars to ask for food donations. As quickly as it began, however, this human drama ended. The crane finished its work, the highway was cleared, and traffic began to move again.
The first vehicle that got through was the immigration vehicle. In a half hour, maybe less, that truck would reach the Dominican-Haitian border at Dajabon to unload its human cargo and then return to Santo Domingo for another trip.

As Regional Representative for AMMPARO, there have been many occasions when I have witnessed the inhumane treatment of migrants by immigration authorities – along the U.S. southern border, along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, on the Colombian side of the Darien Gap.
Nevertheless, the image of this group of Haitians (and quite possibly the children of Haitian parents born in the Dominican Republic), crowded into the back of that truck, will remain with me for a long time. Thankfully, so will the spontaneous and compassionate response of the Dominican woman who was moved to action.


Transformed by Kindness: My Immigration Experience

By Raed AbuJries

“I was a stranger and you invited me in.” These words, from Matthew 25:35, are normally perceived as a guiding principle that urges us to welcome and embrace those who are different from us. And while it will always apply as a call to kindness and compassion, this verse takes on a new depth when viewed through the lens of a personal experience.

When I immigrated to the United States at the age of 18, I quickly became familiar with the concepts of acceptance and hospitality and the transformative power they can hold. As a child, I was taught this biblical verse as a reminder of the values I should uphold as a Christian, mainly, treating others with the same care we would extend to Jesus himself. However, it wasn’t until I started my own immigration journey that the true meaning of being a stranger came into focus. Suddenly, the vulnerability of being in a new and foreign environment quickly revealed to me the significance of this verse.

Arriving in the United States, I had a simplistic and fragmented knowledge of American culture and society, based mainly on what I’ve seen in movies and on television. And while I had heard stories of racial tensions and political divides, the particulars of these issues remained vague. As I started settling into my new life, I encountered a spectrum of responses from the people I met. Some displayed wonderful kindness the moment I met them, offering an open heart that reflected the teachings of embracing strangers. Others maintained a neutral stance, neither overtly warm nor hostile. And then, there were those who greeted me with suspicion and aggression, revealing more of the complexity of human nature and the wide spectrum of attitudes held by people in America.

Every interaction was like a roll of the dice, keeping me always on my toes. Each person’s perception of me seemed to be influenced by their own experiences and biases. And for a new immigrant, those biases were not easy to predict. I was struck by those who went out of their way to make me feel at home, displaying a hospitality that went far beyond being polite. Their acts of kindness, having known nothing of my story or background, ignited a spark within me. They inspired me to strive to meet their expectations and validate their goodwill, by becoming an active and positive contributor to my new community.

These positive experiences highlighted the transformative power of acceptance and hospitality. Acts of kindness, especially extended to strangers, possess the potential to shape their lives and foster a sense of belonging. The kindness I encountered from individuals who embraced me without reservation or prejudice prompted me to channel their goodwill into personal growth and positive engagement with my new environment. Their actions taught me that an accepting community can be a catalyst for self-improvement and meaningful contributions.

On the other hand, it was inevitable to be occasionally met with hostility and suspicion, reminding me of past experiences I endured in the country I came from. Having lived under a military occupation, I was no stranger to prejudice and aggression. I was familiar with the dynamics of being treated as an outsider. Such treatment had taught me that the judgment and aggression of others often arise from ignorance or misguided fear.

But unlike the experiences of acceptance, these negative encounters did not inspire within me a desire to prove myself to those who couldn’t see beyond their biases. Instead, I became more convinced that through acts of kindness and a willingness to extend a hand, we can shape an inclusive society where differences are welcomed. I have personally seen the profound impact of “inviting people in”, not only on individuals seeking refuge in a new land but also on the communities that welcome them. Embracing strangers isn’t just about following a religious mandate—it’s about enriching lives, dismantling barriers, and creating a harmonious community where everyone’s potential can flourish. As I continue to integrate into my adopted home, I am driven to embody the spirit of acceptance that was extended to me, ensuring that others who follow in my footsteps find the same warmth and hospitality that I experienced.

Raed AbuJries is the Program Manager for Education and Communications for the AMMPARO US Network.
Born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine and immigrated to the US in 2001.

With Anti-Immigration Sentiments Rising, More Action is Needed

By David Atkinson


For those closely following immigration issues and debates, every day can seem to be a bad news day.  The diatribes by anti-immigration officials and commentators become numbing with their angry repetition.  But the ingrained perspectives of the voting public can be even more troubling.

We now enter the season when many organizations, on the far ends and in the middle of the political spectrum, are conducting polling to test 2024 themes and discover what might most motivate large blocs of voters.  Some of these surveys square with preconceived notions or confirm what we largely suspect.  Yet, there is always the prospect of a finding or two that stand out from conventional thinking or feed into our hopes for a turn for the better.

Such is not the case with this recent example, unfortunately.  A new YouGov poll, part of a study by the Center for Working-Class Politics, takes a look at how Democrats are connecting with working-class people and where the president connects or misfires.  Without doubt, this is an evaluation from the progressive side of the political landscape.

Here is the key painful finding: “The single most effective message in the poll was a vow to ‘protect the border’; decriminalization of the border was very unpopular.”  Ouch.  Reading that seems like the slap in the face from the old Skin Bracer ads, except there is nothing refreshing about it.  The accepted terminology is heavily skewed.  There is a border wall for considerable stretches of territory.  That comes with checkpoints, surveillance, and enforcement by vehicle and horseback.  To say that the border is wide open is a statement of partisan malice.  To hope for a border that is fully secure is to yearn for something that never was and never will be.  Just look how people have found ways to get through and over the former president’s big and beautiful wall.

When we look at the many ways large and small the so-called immigration system penalizes border crossers, the notion that there is something called decriminalization afoot is gross misrepresentation.  Declining to forcibly separate families is hardly the equivalent of rolling out the welcome wagon for one and all.  No ceasefire has been called on deportations.

How do advocates hope to bring about more humane immigration laws and policies when strident immigration opposition is a sure-fire applause line and vote-getter?  The efforts by advocacy groups such as ELCA, LIRS, and LAMPa to remind everyone what the Bible, especially the gospels, has to say about how to receive and treat the other lays a firm foundation.  But opponents are expert at cherry picking or distorting verses to justify their policies.  Remember how southern preachers two centuries ago were somehow able to divine biblical sanction for slavery?

It is always a herculean effort to get the attention of those who do not care about seeing beyond rhetoric or doing the difficult work of sorting fact from fiction.  And leadership that builds careers on habitually shortchanging the basic needs of citizens on subjects ranging from food security to health care to education is not going to be suddenly sympathetic to the woes of refugees, whether legal or illegal.

That is why it is so important for people of faith to support immigration advocacy, not just with hearts and minds, but with hands and wallets.  To keep abreast of issues, to document discrimination, to support a growing array of resettlement services, to connect individuals and families with vital assistance of legal, language, and living needs, to give tolerance a place in the policy marketplace, these things require a great deal of resource.  Striving to do that which is right and righteous is the charge we hear every time we read the Bible and reflect on its meaning.

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?

Reflections on Christmas at the U.S.-Mexico Border

By Emily Sollie

Lenny stands next to the bank of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. He can see the U.S. from where he stands in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, but he can’t get there. As a Venezuelan, he is not allowed to enter the country due to the controversial Title 42 policy, an emergency public-health measure enacted during the pandemic that was later expanded to include Venezuelans. A former soldier in the Venezuelan armed forces, he decided to leave his home country looking for greater opportunities. Now he squeaks by with odd jobs – unable to finish his journey to America, unable to go home, and uncertain what the future holds. A federal district court in Washington D.C. recently vacated the Title 42 order for violating U.S. law; it was scheduled to end on December 21, pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision is imminent, which could mean more delays.

A river cuts the foreground, while a line of people gathers in front of an opening in the bridge.

Photo credit: Emily Sollie

Just across the river in El Paso, Maria, from El Salvador, sits on the sofa in a respite shelter for migrants. She rubs her pregnant belly as she gazes at the Christmas tree the shelter staff and guests have decorated, an attempt at fostering holiday cheer. “May I pray for you?” asks Rev. Rose Mary Sánchez-Guzmán, pastor of Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey in El Paso. They are at 30-bed short-term shelter for migrant families. Her congregation serves migrants on the weekdays. The young woman nods, and the pastor puts a hand on her shoulder and whispers a prayer in Spanish.

I met Lenny and Maria on a visit to El Paso and Ciudad Juarez earlier this month with AMMPARO colleagues. We were there just days before a high number of asylum-seekers began crossing the Mexico-US border, many aiming to turn themselves in to border officials on the other side. This has made national headlines. Their arrival has created a humanitarian emergency within the city, as officials scramble to accommodate thousands more people than city shelters have capacity to house.

Now, back in my comfortable home in Washington D.C. and preparing for Christmas with my family, I find myself thinking of them and the thousands of others like them, for whom this season is perhaps less joyful, filled with uncertainty for the future. I think of the words Pastor Rose Mary preached, the morning before she prayed with Maria:

“We need to be guided with God’s wisdom and love so we can give hope to the world … we are His instruments here on Earth. I am thankful to God for this church – for giving hospitality to the stranger.”

The pastor’s eyes teared up as she recalled a tragedy in her own family.

“If you just focus on your own problems,” she said, “you will drown. I know. I’ve been there. But when you focus on praising God and helping others, your soul starts to heal.”

We are called to welcome the stranger. We are called to give hospitality to refugees and immigrants. We are called to see the face of God in the faces of our brothers and sisters in need.

As I prepare for the festivities with my family, I reflect on this calling and I also pray. I pray for migrants and refugees and all those seeking safety, shelter, and opportunity. I pray for Pastor Rose Mary and Cristo Rey, and all who welcome the stranger. I pray for our elected and appointed officials, who make policy decisions that affect the lives of millions.

I pray for Maria – that her child, like one born in a manger long ago and far away, will be delivered safely, will be healthy, and will have a warm place to call home.

Emily Sollie is an Interpretation Associate for the ELCA. She accompanied the ELCA AMMPARO staff on a week-long trip to U.S.-Mexico Border that included visits to multiple ELCA synods and congregations accompanying migrants, like Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey. The names of the two individuals in this reflection have been altered to protect their identity.

You can support AMMPARO, working with our companion churches and partners, to accompany migrant families and individuals by donating to the ELCA and dedicating your gift to “AMMPARO.” You can access that form here.