Immigrants, Protestors, Faith Leaders Demand Reform

WASHINGTON – Thousands marched outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to protest federal legislation they say would allow law enforcement officials to incriminate both illegal immigrants and the caretakers who help them.

The interfaith rally, featuring Jewish, Catholic, Quaker, Episcopalian, Methodist, Muslim and other faith speakers, called on all people to reject the proposed bills and proclaimed that God considers all people as equal.

“People of all faiths must come together to reclaim the right that we have as children of God, documented or not, to live with dignity,” said Simon Bautista, the Latino Missioner for the Episcopal Dioceses of Washington. “It is a moral obligation – and certainly not a crime – to help people in need regardless of their immigration status.”

Each speaker concluded their speech with a recurring theme: “We welcome the stranger in this land,” as they alluded to Biblical themes recorded in the Book of Genesis. The crowd replied with a loud “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, you can!”) and raised up American flags and signs that proclaimed “We are not Criminals.”

The rally was held as the Senate Judiciary Committee considers a compromise bill on immigration proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), which would focus on border security while creating a “visa program enabling employers to hire foreign workers while no willing U.S. workers are available.”

The bill also holds provisions that opponents say would incriminate social service workers – many whom are faith-based providers – who feed, house, and give medical support to illegal immigrants by classifying them as human traffickers.

Already among Christian Protestants the immigration issue has become one of the thorniest, especially after two Presbyterian college students were arrested and indicted for transporting three illegal entrants in their car 25 miles from the border.

Proponents of the bill, including many Christian leaders, say the legislation seeks to protect the United States from terrorists and strengthens the country’s borders, over which an estimated one million illegal immigrants passed each year. However opponents, which also include prominent Christian clergy such as Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, dismissed it as unfairly targeting those who come to fill jobs many Americans avoid.

Politicians echoed those sentiments at the rally, saying “You do not become Americans because you’re lucky enough to be born of wealthy parents.”

"You become an American by working hard and providing for your family. By that definition, you are true Americans,” said Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.).

The event was organized by the National Capital Immigration Coalition, and drew an estimated 20,000 people from across the region. The crowd stretched from the steps leading to the entrance on the Capitol’s west side to its reflecting pool below.