July 7, 2006

“All religions believe in justice”

Religious, labor, and community leaders gather against immigration hearings

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

LEADER: You call us to treat our neighbors as we want to be treated ourselves. “We want to be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves… Being not hearers who forget but doers who act — they will be blessed in their doing.” James 1:22,25

ALL: Help us be doers who act. Help us seek justice for immigrants.

LEADER: Do not mistreat or abuse foreigners who live among you. Remember, you were foreigners in Egypt. Exodus 22:21

ALL: Help us be doers who act. Help us seek justice for immigrants.

LEADER: Don’t mistreat foreigners. You were foreigners in Egypt, and you know what it is like. Exodus 23:9

ALL: Help us be doers who act. Help us seek justice for immigrants.

The lines above are how a group of about 200 religious, labor, and community leaders began a litany last Wednesday morning outside the Border Patrol offices in Imperial Beach, where the first of a series of controversial immigration and terrorism hearings are being held by a Republican-led House panel.

The hearings were suddenly called by the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism and the group of religious leaders view these hearings as an attempt to sidetrack the negotiation process of immigration legislation Congress has been working on this year.

“We´re gathered here to raise the voice of the voiceless,” said Reverend “Madre” Patricia Andrews-Callori, an Episcopal priest and a San Diego leader in the nationwide We Are America Coalition, a coalition of religious, labor and community organizations that was formed during this year´s massive protests in favor of immigrants.

“With these hearings, politicians are promoting fear among citizens, and by promoting fear they promote prejudice against immigrants,” she said.

Before the prayer, protesters set up hundreds of crosses representing the 4,000 immigrants who have died trying to cross the border illegally. For about an hour and a half, they read the names of 3,000 immigrants who died and who are identified.

Inside the Border Patrol office, invited panelists only represented the anti-immigrant side of the issue, the protesters said.

“They only want to hear one side of the coin,” said Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, a group that sets water stations in the desert areas near immigrants routes. “A forum means having the two sides giving their opinions. There they’re only listening to racism and prejudice.”

Some of the speakers at the hearings included Darryl Griffen, chief of the San Diego Border Patrol sector; T.J. Bonner, head of the union that represents migra agents; San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender; and Andy Ramirez, head of the vigilante group Friends of the Border Patrol, also known as cazamigrantes.

Religious leaders and others gathered at the site of the hearings to conduct a multi-faith service to expose the process of the hearings, where even a Minuteman participated but not any responsible leader from the community.

“This process is un-American, an insult to our community, and the efforts of many who are attempting to reach a meaningful solution to this difficult problem in good faith,” Madre Patricia. “These congressmen should show the same work ethic as the immigrants they denounce, and get back to work and finish negotiating meaningful and comprehensive legislation to address this important issue for our nation.”

At the religious service, there were Catholics, Jewish, Episcopals, Baptists, and Muslisms, all praying for justice for immigrants. Many of those attending are members of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice.

Ben Monterroso, Executive Director of Service Employees International Union Local 2028, said that labor leaders should continue supporting workers, no matter what their immigration status is.

“All workers should be treated with respect,” he said. “If we don’t defend the rights of undocumented workers, then bosses are going to begin taking the rights of documented workers as well.”

After the leaders gave their testimony and after the litany, the 200 people gathered outside the immigration hearing left in procession.

For more information on the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, visit http://onlinecpi.org/programs_interfaith.html.

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