As a young student did you have to memorize these words:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" – Emma Lazarus

Outside of our Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to our Constitution, nothing so defines our nation for the world as those words and the Statue of Liberty on which they reside.

This is our American tradition.

Yet, not long ago, an anti-immigration demonstrator, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, appeared to challenge this tradition of immigrant welcome. Another anti-immigrant demonstrator carried a sign proclaiming, "What would Jesus do? – obey the law." Did he remember that Mary and Joseph fled Herod's minions by taking refuge in their neighbor nation, Egypt? Were they 'legal'?

Yet there are legitimate questions and concerns about our immigration system. We have an estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the United States right now. But it is a tough time to try to do anything. Our resources are stressed, our economy has lost billions of dollars that will never be recovered, and the nation we love seems beset by enemies.

But our immigration system serves no one well: not those of us worried about our jobs and the future of our children, nor those to whom Lady Liberty still beckons, nor the businesses that need labor that complements our own skills.

The legal entry possibilities are almost non-existent:

"Unlike previous periods in our history, there is virtually no process for unskilled immigrants without family relations in the U.S. to apply for permanent legal residence," the chart by Reason Foundation and the National Foundation for American Policy states (

Essentially, for the kind of working people who built our nation, many of our forebears (do you know your immigrant story?), the door is closed. But like the Irish fleeing famine or the Swedes fleeing households with too little land to support their families, or anyone fleeing war and torture, they come, summoned by the glow of Liberty's lamp.

The current immigration system is broken and confusing. It allows unethical employers to take advantage of hard working, undocumented immigrants - underpaying them, following unfair labor practices - which in turn, undercuts legal workers. Clearly we need to be fair to American citizens, who shouldn't have their wages and jobs undercut by cheap labor, and we need to be fair to businesses that play by the rules and pay their workers a decent salary with decent benefits.
We cannot afford allowing this system to remain broken. It is damaging both our economy and our national spirit. We all would do a lot better to allow those who work hard to become taxpayers, so they pay their fair share. The result would be billions of new tax dollars. The Congressional Budget Office estimates $66 billion new income and payroll taxes if we had dealt with this in 2006.

There are perhaps 350,000 people in immigration detention right now, most of whom are likely to be deported. The Department of Homeland Security's goal of deporting all those and more, is a hugely wasteful effort that will cost billions. And a Perryman Group study showed that mass deportation would shock local economies resulting in $1.8 trillion in annual lost spending.

On March 21, thousands of people will be in Washington DC, carrying one message: fix the system. While not everyone agrees on what is needed, there is broad agreement that the system needs to be changed. Two-thirds of Americans support a path to citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants now here and working in the US.

Faith communities all over the map are calling for reform: the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelicals, state councils of churches around the country - they have all adopted some version of what the National Council of Churches declared:

"As Christians we believe we are called to advocate for policies and mindsets that do not foster hate and perpetuate fear and discrimination. That is why we strongly urge Congress and the President to pass comprehensive immigration reform that upholds the dignity of all people and reflects the principles for which our nation was founded."

So they will gather in DC and walk the halls of Congress, and as people of faith, as people concerned for their children and grandchildren, and as people committed to preserving the values and traditions of America, they will cry with one voice, fix our immigration system!