A coalition of religious communities and organizations, who were brought together by the Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, have come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform by erecting billboards which are welcoming to immigrants.
The program, “Immigrant Welcoming Communities,” is aimed at drawing awareness of local residents, political candidates and President Obama, to what they suggest is an urgent need of comprehensive immigration reform.
The billboards share a message of immigration based on the words of Jesus. The billboards read: "I was an immigrant and you welcomed me" with a line through the phrase "a stranger" and signed "Jesus." The verse is a take on Matthew 25:35.
There are 20 billboards posted throughout the state. Most of them are concentrated in the Des Moines area, the site of the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3. Members held prayer services at the sites of some of the billboards on Monday, in a show of solidarity.
In a statement released by the Catholic Sisters they express their discontent with the current immigration policies which cause the “separation of families due to unjust deportations, and in the exploitation of immigrant workers.”
In an interview with The Christian Post, Sallyann McCarthy, communications director for Sisters of St. Francis, explained how individuals were treating the current issue: “The rhetoric and reality has been so bitter. People need to approach immigration with compassion.”
Whilst she understood that securing the border was important, she added that immigration reform was not just about amnesty, it was also about “providing a path to documentation.”
She continued to explain that "the lack of federal legislation has hindered efforts.”
The “Immigrant Welcoming Communities” coalition also aims at changing the government program “Secure Communities.” The program has both federal and state police officials sharing information that would lead to the deportation of individuals that are currently in jail.
The controversy of this program stems from the lack of transparency on the design and implementation of the program as well as the human rights violations.
“The results have been hundreds of thousands of detentions and deportations, serious civil and human rights concerns, due process violations and damaged trust between immigrant communities and local police,” the statement by the Catholic Sisters has stated.
McCarthy said the “Secure Communities” program has “put up a barrier between authorities and both documented and undocumented immigrants because of fear.”
She went on to explain that when there is a crime immigrants are afraid to come forward because of the possible repercussions. This in turn hinders local law enforcement in providing for public safety.
The apparent lack of human rights for immigrants also prompted the group to take action. “We are deeply grieved by the violence done to families through immigration raids and unjust detentions. We cannot in good conscience ignore such suffering and injustice.”
Lisa Martin, of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, told CP: “Whether documented or not they are human and not all criminals…just hard working people trying to provide for their families.”
They are not alone when it comes to concerns for immigrants. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been an active participant in immigration topics as well, calling for comprehensive immigration reform through campaigns such as Justice for Immigrants.
The USCCB will also hold a conference in January which will focus on state and local immigration initiatives.
A Facebook page has been created by the group: www.facebook.com/catholicsisters