May 11, 2007

Interfaith Community Provides Spiritual Sanctuary for Undocumented

By Raymond R. Beltran

Edgar Hopida sat in the midst of rabbis, reverends and pastors while at the Christian-based Plymouth Congregational Church, where an interfaith congregation practiced the Jewish ceremony ‘chupah’ that is usually supposed to unite Jewish people in marriage.

They gladly sat along side him, too.

He’s a Muslim. In fact, he’s the public relations director for San Diego’s Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group who has worked with different religious groups to form the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice (ICWJ) that is playing a position in the ongoing immigration debate.

Among a thirty person congregation this Wednesday, ICWJ introduced the New Sanctuary Movement that’s being recognize by interfaith clergy nationwide to offer ‘spiritual sanctuary’ to immigrants who’ve been affected by their undocumented status (deported, raided, educationally inhibited or torn from families).

“In Islamic teachings, we stand for social justice,” says Hopida, who has built a relationship with religious groups throughout the past couple years. “[We] all work together toward a common goal. We’re all brothers and sisters.”

Internationally, mainstream knowledge would guess these religions are warring, but Hopida says that little is said about how, locally, these faith based divisions are heavily outweiged by issues of human rights.

Reverend Patricia Andrews Callori, who is heading the ICWJ movement, says that the idea for their sanctuary movement originated with that of the 1980s, when some migrating South American refugees found refuge in U.S. churches when they fled war-torn Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“We’re not talking about that though,” Andrews Callori says. “But it depends on each person and everyone has different needs.”

She says they’re offering a place to find respite. Some people dealing with immigration issues may want to just sit and talk, needing moral and spiritual sanctuary. Others may find use in the group’s contacts with immigration attorneys.

Their movement isn’t without its message though. ICWJ’s stance on immigration reform is comprehensive solutions, much like those of other groups like Si Se Puede, which was present at pew level. They’re asking for a reasonable path to citizenship, due process for undocumented immigrants at the judicial level, reunification measures and workers rights, their foundation as an organization.

“We don’t mean amnesty,” says Andrews Callori. “We have to give and take and try to get the best of what we can.”

She calls the STRIVE (Stability Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy) introduced by Democrats and Republicans “unweilding, costly and heavy on enforcement,” but not without it’s priviledges.

CAIR’s Hopida says he is in agreement with the ‘amnesty for all’ community and looking for something more humane and moral as opposed to politically driven.

The various groups present were the Islamic Center of San Diego, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Christ the King Catholic Church, The Synagogue Without Walls and Plymouth Congregational, among others.

“We’re making a statement… that it’s our moral duty to obey the laws of God, which calls on us to have mercy for all,” said A. Wayne Riggs, the pastor at Plymouth. “Specific passages in our scripture address the obligation to provide shelter to the migrants, and so we are reaching out to those that [have been] divided.”

Interfaith’s Andrews Callori says that in exchange for services that ICWJ offers, law, funding or food, immigrants are asked to share their stories in the public eye, an agreement that often is too risky for many and causes them to deter from ICWJ support.

Leaders of the organization say that it’s essential to share the community’s testimony in order create change in society.

Minutemen representative Jeff Schwilk stood against the back wall of the church during the entire ceremony and said that he obeys the law of the land, which parallels those of the laws of faith.

About ten anti-immigration protestors demonstrated outside the Christian based church along University Avenue. Police were present. No arrests made.

“Don’t mistreat any foreigners who live in your land,” read the congregation allowed, a passage from Leviticus. “Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself.”

During the ceremony, various members quoted the Quran, the Bible’s New and Old Testament and spoke as community activists who have come face to face with cold hard testimony.

Undocumented immigrant, Marco Castillo, talked about how he paid full price for his education with a background in graphic design, a profession he says he chose so he wouldn’t have to depend on an employer.

“I didn’t want to make anyone break the law, so, I just created my own business so that I could be my own boss,” Castillo said at the church pulpit. “I just want the opportunity where I can do things with my life, the legal way … It’s hard living in the shadows.”

Return to the Frontpage