Faith Groups Nationwide to Protest Ariz. Immigration Law

From New York City to San Jose, faith communities this weekend will be holding prayer vigils to urge federal lawmakers to quickly pass comprehensive immigration reform in light of the recent strict Arizona law.

People of faith will gather in front of churches to pray, march through cities, and hold a mass in front of the Phoenix State Capitol during the "Prayer for Immigrant" weekend. Participants oppose the newly passed Arizona immigration law – the toughest in the nation – because they say it will break families apart, promote racial profiling, and create an air of suspicion and fear without fixing the broken immigration system.

"Our congregations in Arizona are working hard to stand with immigrant families, against this horrendous new law in Arizona, and for comprehensive immigration reform," said Bishop Minerva Carcano of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church on Thursday. "They fear that they will be stopped for being brown, that their immigrant parents will be deported, that their families will be separated and trampled by a rampant hatred that is out of control in Arizona."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last Friday signed into law a contentious immigration bill that sparked national uproar over the likelihood that it would in effect sanction racial profiling.

The law requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times, gives police officers the power to question someone suspicious about their legal residency, and allows officers to arrest someone if they cannot prove their legal status.

It also cracks down on people who hire day laborers and those who knowingly transport illegal immigrants.

Brewer, a Republican, blamed federal lawmakers for her state's drastic measures against illegal immigrants. She said Arizona has been more than patient with Washington for decades, but federal lawmakers did not fix the broken immigration system.

In addition to signing the bill, Brewer issued an executive order requiring more training to police officers so they can implement the new laws without engaging in racial profiling.

A new Gallup poll, released Thursday, found that among Americans who have heard about Arizona's new law, 51 percent say they favor it and only 39 percent oppose it.

Supporters of the new immigration law point to the state's high crime rate – Arizona is number two in the world in kidnapping – and argue that it will improve safety in the state. Proponents also point to the recent death of a local rancher, who was allegedly killed by an illegal immigrant involved in drug trafficking, as reason to have the new law in place.

But opponents have called the law "mean-spirited," "misguided and divisive," "a social and racial sin," and "xenophobic."

"The Arizona law and the outpouring of condemnation from the faith community underscores the urgency of enacting humane, comprehensive immigration reform," said Jen Smyers, associate for immigration and refugee policy at Church World Service. "We are praying, protesting, and standing in solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters to push Congress to enact humane immigration reform before August recess."

Dozens of congregations, parishes affiliated with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Justice for Immigration program, PICO National Network, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, and other faith networks and denominations will participate in the "Prayer for Immigrants" weekend. Some congregations will also participate in "Immigrant Sabbath" by preaching about immigration in their houses of worship on Sunday.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area, a Mega March is expected to draw more than 50,000 people on Saturday.

Cities that have committed to "Prayer for Immigrants" this weekend include: New York City; St Louis; Wichita, Kan.; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; San Jose; Goshen, Ind.; Oakland, Calif.; Lancaster, Pa.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Arlington, Va.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Chicago, among others.

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