Faith Communities Launch Immigration Reform Campaign

Faith communities from coast to coast will hold events in 15 U.S. cities this month to demand a change in the country's immigration policies, which they call broken and inhumane.

"We are in a dark period in our country on the issue of immigration," said the Bishop John C. Wester of the Archdiocese of Salt Lake City during a teleconference Tuesday to launch the national movement. "Instead of moving forward with reform of our broken immigration system, our current national immigration policy consists of a series of work site enforcement raids that accomplish little if anything to solve the problem of illegal immigration."

Wester, who is also the chair of the Committee on Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, criticized the raid tactic for the separation of families, dislocation of immigrant communities, and the victimization of U.S. permanent residents and citizens, including children.

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"Immigrants continue to be scapegoated for our economic ills and often dehumanized by the use of anti-immigrant rhetoric," the bishop further complained. "As a nation – a nation of immigrants I might add – we cannot continue to accept the labor of immigrants while also undermining their basic human dignity. We cannot have it both ways."

Jewish leader Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also threw his support behind the call for a comprehensive immigration reform. He explained that the immigration issue is important to the Jewish community because it has been the "quintessential immigrant community in human history," often forced to move from place to place.

Meanwhile, Hispanic evangelical leader the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, complained that the issue of immigration was not given enough attention in presidential debate and receiving negative coverage in the media.

"The fact of the matter is that politicians are ignoring this issue because it is the elephant in the room," he said. "It is the one that everyone refuses to speak to because it is so controversial, so polarizing…"

He urged the religious community to become the "moral firewall" to xenophobic and nativist rhetoric that has taken over the immigration debate.

In Colorado, an organization called the Colorado Council of Churches is taking action to educate Christians on a faith-perspective understanding of the immigration issue.

Dr. Jim Ryan, council executive of the Colorado Council of Churches, said his organization has developed a professional film about immigration that will be used in the Sunday school curriculum. The film was mailed out to 850 congregations in Colorado this week.

"What we are trying to say to folks is what we tend to do is put on our American citizen hat and try to study immigrants," Ryan said. "What we want the study to do is force our folks within the faith community to put on their faith hats, their faith lens actually, to look at this issue through their faith perspective of what Jesus calls us to do within the Christian community regarding loving our neighbor."

The "Tour of the Faithful," as the month-long campaign is called, will feature in total 18 pro-immigration reform events this month. They include a press conference with faith leaders in Raleigh, N.C.; an interfaith prayer vigil in Columbus, Ohio; a march in Chicago, Ill.; and an educational workshop in Los Angeles.

"Faith communities are an important voice in this debate and have the responsibility of defending the basic dignity and rights of the human person," Wester said. "We hope to lift our voices to call attention to this important human rights issue in the days and months ahead so that a new congress and a new administration will address the situation humanely early in 2009."

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