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Religious leaders of all faiths come together in the “immigrant capital of America”

A few days ago we told you about the many events taking place across New York City to mobilize support for immigration reform, building up to the nationwide march in DC on March 21st. Today we attended one of these events – an inter-faith convocation in which religious leaders of all faiths came together to talk about the pressing need for  just and human immigration reform in 2010.

The minute I walked in to the hall at the majestic Riverside Church, I could feel the energy in the room. There was a feeling of community, emerging from people united with the same purpose with a sense of hope and excitement as they look forward to change on the immediate horizon. Hosted by the Riverside Church and organized by the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform and the New York Immigration Coalition, the line-up of speakers was impressive in its variety and scope. In addition to a Member of Congress and representatives from the different immigration activist groups, the speakers represented various Christian denominations, and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist faiths.

Kicking off the event, Rev. Robert Coleman welcomed everyone, alluding to the strength and responsibility of New Yorkers as citizens of the “immigrant capital of America.” He established concepts of equality of all before God, access to human rights for all, and the principle of hospitality as intrinsic to the Christian faith. These ideas were echoed by all the speakers from the different faiths as they referenced their scriptures and called for comprehensive immigration reform that respects due process and ensures the safety and unity of immigrants and their families. Referring to sections from the Torah, Rabbi Noam Marans spoke about the duty of people to look after those who were less privileged and stated that the greatness of a nation is judged not on how its most privileged are treated, but on how it supports its “weakest links.”

Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Congressman who was instrumental in initially deferring the deportation of Jean Montrevil and eventually contributing to reuniting him with his family, gave his support to the convocation and praised the faith-based groups for uniting on the issue of immigration reform, one that he said was crucial to the growth, stability, and moral integrity of the country.  Rep. Rangel said that he believed that immigration reform would benefit the economy as well as national security, and assured the group that he was committed to ensuring that the reform bill introduced by Rep. Gutierrez and Sen. Schumer would be passed in the Senate and the House this year.

In addition to the idea that all humans must treat each other with respect and dignity irrespective of their language, nationality or status, there was a second trope that ran through the speeches that jumped out at me; the notion of the United States as a nation that was built on the hard work and contribution of immigrants from all over the world. A number of the speakers mentioned the ways in which a path to legalization for the nation’s 12 million immigrants would benefit the economy, as well as the ways in which the current situation was allowing for immigrant workers to be exploited and paid less than minimum wage. Anindita Chatterjee Bhaumik, the Hindu Clergy Liason for the NYPD, for example, quoted from the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, and spoke of how the country cannot progress without access to human rights for all. Bishop Jeremiah Park of the United Methodist Church told his own story as a first generation immigrant from South Korea in search of the American dream, and invoking the values inherent in the Statue of Liberty, urged President Obama and Congress to build bridges and allow immigrants to be productive and healthy members of the country that they were already a part of. “We, as people of faith, cannot be passive,” he urged.

As communities across the country have been coming out in support of immigration reform, the faith community has remained one of the strongest forces in this fight for immigration reform. We hope that their united front, combined with their commitment to the cause and dedication to their faiths will encourage more people to join the movement and see that this issue affects everyone in one way or another.

When religion and immigration say hello

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While at the Detention Watch Network conference to attack the detention crisis head-on (its more than 400,000 detainees a year – when will it stop growing?), I have met a number of faith-based organizations that are doing incredible work in their communities to advocate for fair and just immigration.

Faith seems to be in the air. As the first ever Senate immigration hearing on faith based perspectives is held, Think Progress reports that an anti-immigrant group is lambasting “religious elites” for their “compassion” saying, “the laity generally supports enforcement of immigration laws.”

Is that so? In a new report by CAP, an interactive map (we love it!) shows hundreds of faith communities engaged in grassroots-led activism on behalf of immigrants. Meanwhile between January and July, more than 25,000 people have gathered in churches across the country to highlight the stories of families who have been torn apart due to the broken immigration system, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared, “taking parents from their children … that’s un-American.”

Silently, the work continues. Like Nick and Mary Mele, an ordinary couple in the Bellingham area, who decided to take a pilgrimage in reaction to the first work raid committed after President Obama took office. Taking a route that meant 9-10 miles of daily walking, they walked for 15 days from church to church, ending with a prayer vigil at the very same detention center where the workers were detained.

Or Sister Joann and Sister Pat, Sisters of Mercy, (we saluted your work today), who day after day, bitter cold, wind, or rain, would maintain a vigil outside the Broadview Immigration Detention Center near Chicago, the last stop for immigrants before they are deported.

And volunteers are always needed to become The Visitors (Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins) at the Sojourners program that mentors volunteers to visit and befriend asylum seekers in a windowless converted warehouse near Newark Airport in New Jersey.

May God bless us all (and not just a priveleged few).

Photo courtesy of whatcom.blogs.com