Joseph Castleberry is the president of Northwest University, a Christian college just outside of Seattle, and an ordained Assemblies of God pastor. He grew up in the segregated south, but his faith work introduced him to minority and immigrant communities. In seminary, Joseph grew close to immigrant friends over meals and long conversations about their life experiences.
Personal relationships taught Joseph to appreciate “the contribution of immigrants in America,” he says. Later, he became a missionary in Latin America. “Having the experience of living in a foreign country built in me an empathy for people who have to live in another culture and assimilate,” he says.
Back in America, Joseph spent more time with the Latino community. “A large percentage of Evangelicals in America are immigrants, children of immigrants, or from minority communities,” he says. He spoke regularly at immigrant churches and developed friendships with their congregations. He has grown close to pastors and congregants who struggled to navigate the immigration system and whose families lived in fear of deportation. Worse, he has seen families torn apart. He has seen his denomination struggle with the question of whether to officially recognize undocumented church workers with ministerial credentials. All together, these problems “definitely destabilize their lives and the churches they are a part of,” Joseph says.
In addition to the impact on the family and the American church, Joseph also sees the economic consequences of a broken immigration system. “The lack of immigration reform is holding back our economy,” he said, noting that the lack of access to immigrant employees hinders local technology, agricultural, and commercial industries in Washington.
Joseph wants our country’s leaders to fix immigration policy in such a way that ensures the safety of our country and gives assurance to undocumented immigrants. “Give them security and the knowledge that as long as they are playing by the rules of this country, they have nothing to fear of being deported or having their lives upset.”
For now, Joseph is actively working to make his community a more welcoming space for immigrant communities. As the president of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, Joseph interacts with his increasingly diverse student body, many of whom are immigrants or first-generation Americans. “We work hard to make it an attractive place for them so they feel welcome there.” He continues to speak at immigrant churches. He lobbies his congressional representatives to make immigration reform a priority. And as a vocal advocate, he speaks regularly to the media and recently released a book, titled The New Pilgrims: How Immigrants Are Renewing America’s Faith and Values.
Most importantly, as a Christian leader, Joseph hopes Congress understands the moral imperative for immigration reform. “The reason I support immigrants is because I love people,” he said. “And you can’t pretend to be a lover of people and be hostile to people who are struggling for survival.”
This story appears as part of the Partnership for a New American Economy’s Reason for Reform campaign, which features hundreds of stories from individuals around the country sharing their reasons for immigration reform. To give your reason, learn more about the project here.