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 CNS Story:

IMMIGRATION CAMPAIGN May-10-2005 (1,050 words) With photo. xxxn

Church organizations launch campaign to aid immigrants

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Citing reasons as broad as Catholic teaching about the right to migrate to improve one's life and as narrow as one Guyana emigrant's need to support his family, more than a dozen church organizations and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops May 10 launched a campaign called Justice for Immigrants.

The program is intended to educate the public, and Catholics in particular, about how immigration and immigrants benefit the nation; to improve public opinion about the contributions of immigrants; to advocate for changes in immigration laws and policies; and to organize networks that assist immigrants with legal problems.

Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, a consultant to the USCCB's Committee on Migration, said at a press conference announcing the campaign that the bishops "have grown increasingly disturbed by the current public discourse surrounding immigrants, in which newcomers are characterized as a threat to our nation and not a benefit."

"Anti-immigrant fervor on TV and radio shows, citizens attempting to enforce immigration laws, and, most disturbingly, the enactment of restrictive immigration laws are evidence of this negative public environment," he said.

He said those in ministry at parishes, schools, hospitals and social service agencies see the effects of that environment daily -- in families kept apart by years of waiting for visas and by deportations or detention policies.

Celia Rivas, director of immigration services at the Spanish Catholic Center of the Archdiocese of Washington, said in the 14 years she has worked at the center she has seen many people lose hope as years go by with families still kept apart by borders. Changes in immigration law in the late 1990s and tougher approaches to how immigrants are handled mean that 10, 15 or 20 years can go by before immigrant families can be reunited, she said.

Rivas said having so many "broken families" is a factor in the growth of gangs, the increase in domestic violence and more mental health problems seen in people who seek help from the church.

"We're becoming like emergency rooms," she said. "We have to have a triage center to establish what we need to do."

One client of the Washington Archdiocese's legal services for immigrants, Clarence Coleridge, described his seven years of frustration as he waited for a work permit that would enable him to support his family.

"It's amazing what we go through just to acquire our rightful documents," he said, explaining that for a time he could not even visit his daughter's school because he did not have the kind of identification the school required.

Cardinal McCarrick said that, as President George W. Bush and others have acknowledged, "our immigration system is broken and badly needs repair."

He praised Bush for saying changes need to be made to the U.S. immigration system and policies.

"If he hadn't begun the conversation, this issue wouldn't be on the table," he said. But the president's proposal for a guest worker program that includes options for those already here to legalize their status "doesn't really touch those family issues," Cardinal McCarrick said.

The concerns of separated families are at the core of the church's campaign, he said. "One of the goals of our campaign is to try to change those laws so that immigrants can support their families in dignity, families can remain united and the human rights of all are respected."

But before laws can be changed, the cardinal acknowledged, "we must change attitudes, including those of many of our own flock."

Bishop James A. Tamayo of Laredo, Texas, said it is crucial that people understand immigrants are contributing to the success of the United States, "they're paying taxes, they're helping us develop and grow."

Instead of treating immigrants as scapegoats for terrorist attacks or other problems in society, Bishop Tamayo said people need to be taught the church's moral reasoning for supporting immigrants.

Some people came into the United States illegally when "they couldn't get through the system because of its abuses or because it just needs repairing," he noted. "They're also crying out for justice and need our help."

Bishop Tamayo told Catholic News Service after the press conference that in his diocese on the U.S.-Mexican border people are used to seeing the area, regardless of the border, as one big community.

But he recognizes that elsewhere in the country people are not quite so ready to think of immigrants as "our brothers in Christ" or to share Pope John Paul II's vision of a "church without borders," as enunciated in "Ecclesia in America," a 1999 apostolic exhortation.

The Justice for Immigrants campaign will use parish-based educational materials to address that problem.

Leo Anchondo, national manager of the campaign, said parishes nationwide will be receiving materials such as sermon ideas, background information and suggestions for parish activities.

Cardinal McCarrick said just as Catholics have begun to shift away from their support for the death penalty as information about its flaws has become understood so will the anti-immigrant views begin to fade as people begin to hear another side of the story.

"Ten, 20 years ago, the vast majority of people approved the use of the death penalty," he said. "Now it's closer to 50-50."

By putting human faces on the issues of immigration and explaining the failings of the system, he said, "we will try to raise the level of consciousness of the public and of Catholic people."

Several USCCB offices are part of the campaign: Migration and Refugee Services, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the Office of Domestic Social Development, the Office of International Justice and Peace, the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.

Other organizations involved in Justice for Immigrants include: the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors of Hispanic Ministry, the National Council of Catholic Women, the National Catholic Educational Association, the U.S. Jesuit Conference, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors, the Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network, Irish Apostolate USA and Roundtable, an association of diocesan social action directors.

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Editor's Note: Information about Justice for Immigrants is available on the campaign's Web sites: www.justiceforimmigrants.org and www.justiciaparalosinmigrantes.org.


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