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Montana churches join national iMarch movement in push for immigration reform

If the 800,000 so-called DREAMers living in the United States were deported due to congressional inaction on immigration, it would nearly amount to Montana’s entire population.

Such an outflux of workers, students and family members, Laura Folkwein believes, would carry deep social and economic consequences. Businesses would lose valued employees, crops would wither on the vine and essential services would go unmet.

“I would ask Montanans to imagine that if everyone in our state was asked to leave in six months, what would happen to our economy, to all of our services?” Folkwein said. “It’s a strong image to help understand the impact of dismantling the DREAM Act.”

Folkwein, a minister at University Congregational Church in Missoula, was one of several Montanans on Thursday to help launch iMarch for Immigration, a national movement organized by the New American Economy in a push to highlight the economic power of the nation’s immigrants.

While immigration reform stands at the center of the iMarch movement, Thursday’s effort focused on Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and a push to see Congress renew the Obama-era policy.

Referred to as DREAMers, children brought to the county illegally – but at no fault of their own – stand at the center of a simmering debate in Washington. President Donald Trump rescinded the program in September and Democrats are working to pass permanent protections for those once covered by the program.

“Since the announcement earlier this year to end the program, a large amount of uncertainty has remained for the many DREAMers around the country,” said Lisa Foxx with the New American Economy. “This inaction has resulted in additional analysis of our broken immigration system, further underscoring the need to modernize our outdated process for foreign-born individuals.”

As part of iMarch, organizers are pushing Congress to find a solution for DREAMers by the end of the year. The national movement highlighted several Missoula organizations during its kickoff on Thursday, including Standing Alongside America’s Muslims, and churches in Missoula and Billings.

Members of Montana’s religious community have applied biblical stories to the modern-day immigration debate, with one pastor saying Jesus and Mary were immigrants fleeing the ways of King Herod.

But it’s the potential economic loss from mass deportation and a broken immigration system that has iMarch participants concerned. More than 23,000 immigrant residents call Montana home, paying more than $122 million in taxes.

“That’s pretty substantial to us here in Montana,” said Folkwein. “When we lose agricultural workers, high-skilled workers, people working in assisted living with our seniors, it affects all of us.”

According to the New American Economy, the number of immigrants living in Montana has grown by nearly 20 percent since 2010. While they represent just 2.2 percent of the population, they represent a spending power of $429 million.

Immigrant entrepreneurs have started 1,700 business, while businesses owned by immigrants in Montana employ more than 9,500 workers.

“We’re not talking ‘murderers and rapists,’ people who have broken the law or somehow not been vetted,” said Mike Mullberry, the senior minister at First Billings Church.

“The idea that we need to do this for our economy, that immigrants are getting the jobs other people would have and somehow things would go better for us if they were gone, it’s not a reality. Those are legends told to support hate.”