Austin pastor works to address immigration

Published 1:31 pm Saturday, June 27, 2009

For Howard Lamont being welcoming to the immigrant population is “simply part of the Christian message.”

Lamont is co-chairman of an immigration task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod. He said the task force contacted Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) to help congregations of the synod welcome and respond to the needs of immigrants.

LIRS’ Be Not Afraid program prepares Lutherans for possible immigration raids, helps immigrant families know their rights and illustrates how congregations can advocate for immigration policies that maintain “good order” while preserving the dignity and safety of immigrant families.

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In Austin, immigrants serve to fulfill some of the town’s labor needs. While some long-time residents welcome immigrants, others are not always welcoming, according to the Rev. Glenn Monson, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church.

“Immigration is complicated,” he said. “It has produced stress for people in town, churches and elsewhere.”

In an effort to address immigration, Monson met with 30 clergy serving Methodist, Catholic and other denominations in Austin. “We’re a fairly small town, and all pastors are impacted in some way. But how do you talk about this? What’s true and what’s not true?”

LIRS conducted a Be Not Afraid workshop there. To enhance the overall dialogue, the pastors heard from others in town such as school district representatives, the police chief and mayor, hospital administrators and leaders of Austin’s major employer.

“I learned that 40 percent of our kindergarten class in our area is Hispanic,” Monson said. “This tells me that whole families are moving here, which has made the community much more stable and not so much migratory.”