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Ecumenical advocates see immigration reform
as a moral imperative for the good of America

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Watkins sermon: human family is one
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Washington, March 20, 2010 -- On the eve of a historic immigration rally on Capitol Hill, hundreds of delegates to Ecumenical Advocacy Days were fired up Saturday morning by testimonies from immigration activists and immigrants.

Persons of faith from all over the country are gathering for Ecumenical Advocacy Days here March 19-22 under the theme, "A Place to Call Home: Immigrants, Refugees and Displaced Peoples."

Delegates were openly moved by Laura G. Rico, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico. Rico, a cancer survivor, is raising four children alone while her husband languishes in a federal prison following his arrest for attempting to re-cross the Mexico-U.S. border to reunite with his family in the U.S.

Rico's husband had been deported to Mexico and the couple decided to reunite in Mexico in two years after their son completed high school in the U.S.

"But my husband couldn't wait two years to see his family," said Rico, choking back tears. "He was arrested at the border and is now spending crime in a federal prison for the crime of wanting to come home."

Rico said it is difficult to remain strong when she hears her daughter singing "You are my sunshine" over the telephone to her husband as he sits in his cell.

Worried that her cancer may reoccur under the stress she is under, Rico said, "Even though sometimes I just can't take it anymore, I can't give up."

She clings to the hope that her family will be eventually be reunited. But she urged the delegates to work for immigrations policies "that lift up American values."

"It's not right to strip a family of its dignity and self-respect," she said. "It's not fair to keep fathers from their families. It's not fair to keep husbands from their wives."

Sister Mary McCauley, BVM, was pastoral administrator of three rural parishes, including St. Bridget's in Postville, Iowa, at the time of the May 12, 2009 U.S. immigration raid on Agriprocessors in Postville when undocumented workers were swept up and arrested.

"The tragedy of Postville screams for our compassion and attention," McCauley said.

When word of the raid reached St. Bridget's parish, McCauley rushed to the processing plant. "I didn't know what I was going to do," she said. "I simply wanted the people to know that we cared for them and the St. Bridget's community was there for them."

During the raid, workers "heard themselves called rats and they were shackled at their arms and waists," McCauley said.

The raid separated parents from their children and many children were frightened and had no place to go. McCauley let it be known that "anyone who is alone and afraid can come to St. Bridget's."

Before nightfall, she said, "over 400 people flowed into St. Bridget's. They hoped and prayed that the church would help them in their time of need."

People often ask McCauley if she was worried about the consequences of harboring so-called "illegals."

"In all honesty, I was never afraid because I knew what I was doing was right," she said. "The law of love and respect for justice must rule our hearts. Follow our hearts and trust the presence of God."

Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America's Voice, a communications campaign working to win common-sense immigration reform, predicted 100,000 people would carry the message to Capitol Hill Sunday afternoon. The March for America: Change Takes Courage and Faith, takes place at 2 p.m. and most Ecumenical Advocacy delegates will be attending.

There are many common sense reasons to advocate reform of outdated immigration laws, Sharry told the group. For example, giving undocumented workers a path to citizenship would place millions on tax rolls with a potential of generating 6.6 billion in additional taxes.

But fully half the public is undecided and occasionally conflicted about reform, he said. "If you ask them, what about amnesty, they say, 'No!' If you ask, then shall we deport 11 million people, they say, 'No!'"

"Our job is to connect with people, understand their frustration, and ask what we should do about it," Sharry said. "Shall we allow the status quo or have a broad reform of immigration laws to make it work?"

Sharry expressed disappointment in President Obama's inaction on immigration reform. "I'm disappointed with a president who promised change and brought more of the same," he said.

But Sharry expressed the hope that immigrations reform will happen.

"This is not about fixing the system," he said. "It's about fixing this nation's soul. This is about what kind of country we are. I used to want to help immigrants. Now I want to help America -- make it live up to its ideals. Now the biggest law enforcement agency in this country is aimed at ripping families apart."

Sharry said America is at its best when it isn't focused on us-versus-them conflicts.

"I trust the heart and soul and values of the American people," he said.


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell) , pjenks@ncccusa.org
NCC pictures by Philip E. Jenks

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