August 4, 2006

Catholic leaders respond to immigration hearings

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

“...for I was a stranger and you welcomed me...” Matthew, 25:35.

Members of the Catholic clergy and leaders gathered at St. Joseph Cathedral in Downtown San Diego last Wednesday to raise their voices in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform.

The Catholic leaders were responding to a controversial immigration hearing that was being held by a Republican-led House panel at a nearby Marine base that same day.

Lawmakers state that they wish to hear the voice of the public in the hearings. Catholic clergy and leaders want to ensure that Congress hears their voice.


Monseñor Gilbert E. Chávez, address the media on the Catholic position of immigration.

“Everyday we see in our parishes the humanitarian consequences of a broken system: families which are separated, migrant workers that are exploited by smugglers and unscrupulous employers, and human beings who die in the desert,” said Rev. Gilbert E. Chavez, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego.

The series of hearings was suddenly called for by the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism, and various religious and immigrant-rights groups view these hearings as an attempt to sidetrack the negotiation process of immigration legislation Congress has been working on this year.

Last year, U.S. Catholic bishops called and urged Congress for comprehensive immigration reform that includes several recommendations. At Wednesday’s conference, San Diego Catholic leaders voiced the four key areas that the reform should include: Policies intended to improve economic conditions in migrant’s home countries; reunification of families torn apart by immigration; a guest worker program that protects workers’ rights; and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Rosemary Johnston, board member of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said that the Congressmen at the hearings are only focusing on the possible negative impacts of immigrants. The hearings focus was on the public expense of services provided for undocumented immigrants, such as education and health care.

Catholics know very well immigrants bring many positive contributions to the U.S., she said.

“Lawmakers at the hearings are asking about the negative impacts of immigrants, about how to create laws to get rid of them. We have a different set of questions that drive comprehensive immigration reforms, like how many deaths will it take until we know that too many have died along the border with Mexico?” she said.

One in every 4 people in San Diego is an immigrant, Johnston added.

Rev. Emmet Farrell, of St. Jude Shrine of the West, said that thousands of immigrants attend his parish. As a service to them, St. Jude offers English and citizenship classes to help immigrants lead a better life in the U.S.

“Their only crime is that they came here looking for work to provide a better life for their families,” he said. “We shouldn’t criminalize those who came here to work.

RayMonda Du Vall, executive director of Catholic Charities San Diego, said that all Catholics should lend a hand to undocumented immigrants.

“Immigration is a moral issue, not a political issue,” she said.

Catholic Charities was founded in 1919 to serve the poor and the vulnerable in the dioceses, Du Vall said.

“Immigrants are part of that group,” she said. “As Catholics we have to follow the doctrine of Jesus Christ.”

When asked, ‘what can the Hispanic community do?’ Bishop Chavez replied that the people can become involve contacting their political representative, write letters, make phone calls, let your representative know how you feel in regards to the question of immigration.

For more information on the Catholic Church’s Justice for Immigrants, the Church’s campaign for immigration reform, visit www.justiceforimmigrants.org.

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