More than 200 American religious leaders, including heads of several major Protestant denominations, gathered here yesterday to denounce the Reagan administration's deportation of Central American refugees and the arrests of church workers who helped them.
The bishops, ministers and rabbis called for a congressional investigation into use of paid informers and electronic surveillance by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to infiltrate the Christian sanctuary movement.
Jim Andrews, a leader of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), suggested that Reagan "could use a broader understanding" of some of the religious views he espouses. One thing the president should know, Andrews said, is that "God is not an American."
Gustav Schultz of Berkeley, Calif., auxiliary bishop of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, said the administration has violated the 1980 Refugee Act by deporting 50,000 Salvadorans and Guatemalans since 1981.
The religious leaders said the INS and other federal agencies "systematically deny applications" from those refugees, contending that they are here for economic, not political, reasons.
Several of those at a news conference at The Methodist Center on Capitol Hill expressed impatience with questions about how their strong stance is viewed by their congregations' members, who helped Reagan win an overwhelming reelection victory last year.
"Morals are not a majority vote," said Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel of the United Methodist Church in the District.
"It's a mistake to base too much concern on the last election. This is a moral outrage," Roman Catholic Bishop Frank Murphy of Baltimore said. The administration's "scandalous policy is now beginning to interfere directly with the right of religious congregations to provide humanitarian aid to refugees," he added.
Rabbi Irwin Blank, past president of the Synagogue Council of America, said the sanctuary movement "saves lives. Let us not repeat the lesson of history."
He said that, as a result of the German government's arrest of Christian families and clergy who aided Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 1940s, the 1949 Geneva Convention "affirmed that never again should a government criminalize private citizens and agencies who assist the victims of persecution."
In addition to seeking an investigation by the House subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, the leaders urged support for legislation, introduced by Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and Rep. John Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.), that would suspend deportation of Salvadorans for about two years.