To the Reverend James T. Said, rector of Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Augusta, Georgia, and a member of the local Progressive Religious Coalition (PRC), advocating for immigration reform is deeply tied to his religion. “The Progressive Religious Coalition believes we should affirm the values of love, justice, creativity, kindness, respect, charity, and rational thought,” he says. “All faith groups have very similar morals where you are to respect the dignity of every human being. And I think America needs to do that. This is an opportunity for us to lift a hand to support our sisters and brothers.”
Rev. Said offers many reasons to promote understanding and build respect toward new Americans. “Everyone is an immigrant if you go a couple generations back,’ he says. “It is in our history, our blood. It is in our religious beliefs to help our fellow travelers on this journey that we are on.” And, he adds: “Immigrants bring flavor and spice to our culture. And they are good for business.”
In fact, immigrants in Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, in a southeast pocket of the state and where Rev. Said lives, account for nearly 30 percent of the agriculture industry, in addition to playing key roles in the construction, waste management, manufacturing, and wholesale trade industries. “A lot of immigrants do service work,” the Rev. Said points out. “Who will do the work that the immigrants are now doing in our country, like mowing lawns and working in the service industries?”
Hard work isn’t the only thing these foreign-born residents contribute to the local economy. In 2014, immigrants in his district, who comprise 4.2 percent of the population, paid $195 million in taxes and held $587 million in spending power. Additionally, 1,140 own businesses, helping to drive job growth, and 6,800 own homes, helping to boost area housing values.
What if the situation were reversed? Wouldn’t we want someone to help us?
Before moving to Georgia in 2016, Rev. Said had a long career as the North American regional vice president of sales at a data technology company. But as the son of missionaries, he eventually felt led to the faith. Because he spent his childhood in Brazil, Rev. Said also grew up speaking Portuguese and Spanish, skills he put to use teaching a Spanish-language U.S. civics class in Texas. Some of his students were preparing for the citizenship test. “One guy told me, ‘Jim, I don’t have a family to go back to. I moved my whole family here,’ ” he recalls. “It’s not like he’s got grandmother’s villa back in Cancun to return to. They came here to make a better life for themselves and their families, and they’re going after the American Dream.”
That’s why Rev. Said wants immigration reform that will keep families together, not rip them apart, as happened to roughly half a million parents between 2009 and 2013. “I have a problem when a family that has lived here for a long time, had children born here who are American, and then mom and dad get sent back to their country,” the Rev. Said says. “So if I could wave a magic wand and get whatever I want, I would want the families who’ve grown up here to stay here. Canceling DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) was a big mistake.”
Rev. Said understands the need to control who comes into the country, but he points out that part of America’s strength historically rests on cross-border affairs. “Our borders have been open for a long time, and people have come in and developed lives and businesses and families for themselves,” he says. ”They have contributed to what America is and some have even fought for our country. For us to kick them out is wrong.”
“Our country was founded on liberty and justice for all,” he says. “Sometimes we have to practice what we preach to help other people who are less fortunate than we are. What if the situation were reversed? Wouldn’t we want someone to help us?”