Fairfield University takes step to reframe the language of immigration debate with "Strangers as Neighbors" white paper publication



Image: Rick RyscavageFairfield University's Center for Faith and Public Life has taken the first step in an effort to try to transform the national discourse on the much politicized immigration debate, with its initiative, "Strangers as Neighbors: Religious Language and the Response to Immigrants in the United States." This effort comes as immigration rights advocates have implored President Obama to move the issue to the top of his agenda.

Seeking ways to create the conditions for insightful dialogue and action on immigration reform, the Center for Faith and Public Life led a series of meetings and academic workshops over the past year that brought together some 100 individuals, including religious leaders of different faiths, politicians from different parties, NGO and non-profit organization leaders, advocates, and scholars to discuss the status of immigration reform.

The interfaith dialogue of the initiative has proved to be a productive one, a sharp contrast to the rancor that so often has pervaded the conversation in the public square. The Center for Faith and Public Life's recently issued white paper collection captures the highlights of the feedback gained from these leaders, politicians and scholars weighing in on highly charged issues.

Funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, the project was co-directed by Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., director of the Center for Faith and Public Life and professor of sociology; and Jocelyn Boryczka, Ph.D., director of Fairfield's Peace and Justice Studies Program and associate professor of politics. "We believe these papers, taken together, have the potential to provide everyday citizens with tools for reflection, a framework for thinking, and the language to move the conversation on immigration forward," said Fr. Ryscavage, a nationally known expert on migration who is a former national director for Jesuit Refugee Service USA.

The Center is seeking funding for the next phase of the project, with the intention of continuing an interfaith dialogue on the debate through regional town hall-like meetings that bring together religious leaders, politicians, advocates and others vital to making a difference. The white paper collection is being disseminated nationally to those who participated in the forums, religious leaders, NGOs, academic institutions and others.  

The Center for Faith and Public Life examined ways in which religious language can affect the discussion of immigration. Two central questions drove the discussion:

  • How can faith groups, acting in concert, reframe the language of the national debate on immigration?
  • What is the nature of the deliberative processes necessary to bring different faith groups together in a constructive dialogue about immigration?

Among the key findings surrounding religious language and immigration is the role of fear in immigrant and non-immigrant communities; and the powerful force of law as dominating the current discourse on immigration. "Addressing these key findings may provide an alternative way for the humanistic perspective of faith-based communities to enter into the national discourse on immigration, rather than limiting the conversation to the dominant legalistic approach," according to the white paper.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 15, 2010

Vol. 42, No. 270