Letter signed by Springfield clergy in opposition to E-Verify ballot proposal

by Phil Snider

To Concerned Citizens of Springfield Missouri,

As faith leaders in Springfield who represent a variety of traditions, we feel compelled by conscience to speak out for our community regarding the illegal, unjust, and uncalled for City Ordinance, Question 1, on the February 7th ballot, put forth by the Ozarks Minutemen by Initiative Petition, and popularly referred to as E-Verify.

We are called upon by our sacred texts to affirm the importance of loving one’s neighbor and welcoming the stranger, an ethical code central to all enduring religious traditions.

“The strangers residing among you must be treated as your citizens. Love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Eternal your God.”
-Leviticus 19:34

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…”
-Matthew 25:35

While our faith traditions command us to care for the outcast, the downtrodden, and the most vulnerable populations, Question 1 is in clear violation of these moral precepts.

This unjust City Ordinance would prove detrimental to our local community and economy by placing a costly and unnecessary burden on businesses, local government, non-profit organizations and religious organizations alike to enforce a version of E-Verify that goes far beyond state and federal guidelines.

The complaint-based nature of the ordinance, with no penalties for frivolous complaints, makes the ordinance’s loosely defined terms problematic. In the hands of some, this ordinance could be used to harass former employers, business rivals, religious organizations, civic groups, and individuals.

We believe that should this measure pass it will invite legal challenges to its constitutionality and impose litigation fees our government and businesses cannot afford.

“In addition to the problems inherent in the E-Verify system itself, the ordinance is so poorly constructed that it conflicts with federal law in places and exposes anyone who uses it to significant risk of litigation and expense.”
–Councilperson Cynthia Rushefsky, Attorney at Law

We are very concerned about fair economic practices and the economic health of our community. If passed, the Minutemen version of E-Verify would place the responsibility of the federal government back on local taxpayers. Instead of providing true reform, it would hinder economic development and competition in Springfield, thus far the only city in the region considering adopting such restrictive measures.

The truth of the matter is that this ordinance doesn’t address the proper ways to ensure that organizations in Springfield be in compliance with established laws that already make it illegal to hire undocumented workers. This ordinance would not simply impact unauthorized workers, but would have tremendous negative outcomes for millions of legal workers. As the most up-to-date research provided by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce shows, on average, of those persons erroneously determined to be “unauthorized to work” under E-Verify, 20 percent are American citizens and 50 percent are actually documented, work-authorized, foreign-born employees. Likewise, 45 percent of the users of E-Verify misuse it by racial profiling or hiring under the table.[1]

A 2009 competitive assessment listed Springfield’s lack of diversity as an obstacle to our community’s future economic development.[2] Creating more fear of one another in Springfield is counterproductive to building healthy communities that honor family values, hard work and love for our neighbors, which are values that make us all stronger.

The Minutemen E-Verify proposal in Springfield goes far beyond the federal version with careless, over-reaching implications that could even force churches to E-Verify guest speakers, an unnecessary burden and cost for struggling congregations and a potential violation of freedom of speech and religion.

The proposed version of E-Verify is similar to ordinances passed in parts of the country that have gained a reputation for stoking the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment that is detrimental to building a healthy community. Springfield should learn from these examples and recognize that such policy divides communities, hurts local economies, and scares off businesses.

We uphold the U.S. Constitution’s clarity on immigration enforcement being handled at the federal level. We seek fair local laws and initiatives that will help build stronger, more welcoming congregations and communities in which all persons thrive.

We are dedicated to living out our faith by affirming that all people are created equally in the image of God.

In Faith,

Rev. John Andrews

Rev. Emily Bowen

Rev. Ellen Brantley

Rev. Dr. Carl Brown

Rev. Dr. Peter Browning

Rev. Howard Cavner

Rev. Ken Chumbley

Rev. Conni Ess

Rev. Jonathan Frazier

Rev. Laura Fregin

Rev. Dan Friberg

Rev. Steve Gardner

Rev. Janet Given

Rev. Samuel Gonzalez

Rev. Becky Hebert

Rev. Dr. David Hockensmith

Rev. Paul Hunt

Rev. Larry Maddox

Rev. Dr. Gary Metcalf

Rev. Hazael Rodriguez

Rev. Ednor Sebag

Rabbi Rita Sherwin

Rev. Diana Smith

Rev. Dr. Phil Snider

Rev. Mark Struckhoff

Rev. Dr. Mike Weinman

[1] Westat Audit, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Local Issues Public Policy Task Force
[2] Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Local Issues Public Policy Task Force

*Note: This letter reflects the views of the signatories, but not necessarily the institutions they represent. In other words, we are speaking for ourselves here and not for our congregations.*