“We are here to open wider doors,” said Dora Luz Harper, Coordinator of Isaias Duarte Center. “In a time of confusion and anger, ‘Immigration: God’s Law and Law of the Land’ is a discussion on how we are called to respond to a stranger our land,” she said. Bottom line of the workshop was that the current immigration laws are broken, there needs to be immediate reform that respects human dignity, protects families and saves lives.
The workshop invited four distinguished panelists who offered their expertise on spiritual responsibility, economical impact, legal aspect and personal experiences of undocumented immigrants. The goal was to strategize an action plan to help further the immigration state mate.
“We need to speak the truth and debunk myths about immigration,” said Thomas J. Allio, Senior Director of Diocesan Social Action Office, who spoke to the economical impacts of immigration. “Illegal immigrants pump $7 billion into social security annually of which they don’t receive anything back… they are only qualified for essential public health services,” he said.
Allio said the fear most people have of losing their jobs is unfounded as only 5percent of jobs are occupied by undocumented workers. He says the 9 million workers fill essential gaps in the U.S.-American workforce.
Keynote speaker Sister Jane Burke, national manager for Justice for Immigrants Campaign, Washington, D.C., said she is often stunned by the violence propagated against her because she sits in an office that advocates for undocumented workers. “It is time for action, not just in light of law but in line with what our faith teaches us,” she said. Burke talked about the Catholics Church’s Social as the guidelines of how Christians should live in their societies.
She quoted Leviticus 19:32-34, a guidance from God to ‘treat foreigners with respect and grant them the same rights and protection as the people of the land.’ Burke said there needs to be a comprehensive immigration reform to fix the problems of a very complex issue. “No one will get everything they want in this debate, but we have a tremendous opportunity to work for the common good,” she said.
Burke said the citizens of this country have a religious and civic obligation to take care of the immigrants. “We turned a blind eye to this development for years. We didn’t object when companies brought over the so called ‘illegals’ to do the jobs we didn’t want to do or couldn’t do… as long as our economy was strong and they remained in the shadows you and I were not taking action,” she said.
Burke worked with migrant farmworkers for 15 years in Florida and said they were exploited for basic necessities and charged per toilet sheet they used. She said the responsibility lies with everyone. “If you want to punish someone for breaking the law, punish everyone, not just the illegal immigrant,” said Burke.
Burke said it is impossible to deport 12 million people and earned legalization has to be an option. She quoted U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) comparison of current immigration to the Civil Rights Era and asked, “Is that where we want this country to go?”
An audience member questioned the security risk of a porous southern border, citing jihad and Al Qaeda as a serious threat and advocated being suspicious of Latinos because they share Middle Eastern features. The remarks sparked intense rebukes from other audience members.
“When Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma all white men didn’t become suspicious,” said María Smith, Cleveland Nonviolence Network. “We have to be aware of becoming too scared,” said Jason Lorenzon, an aspiring immigration attorney and a Canadian immigrant. He said it is easy to forget real people are being affected. “We need them here and we have plenty of resources to share with them,” he said. Lorenzon said his immigration took 12 years and several thousand dollars.
Attorney Melissa Laubenthal said 15-20 years is the average time it takes to process for a green card. Laubenthal encouraged getting involved with U.S. Congress to move the backlog.
“It is a misconception that having familial connection to a citizen grants immunity to deportation,” she said. Deportation waivers are available for those who can prove extreme hardship. “Good luck trying to convincing a bureaucrat, that in itself is a hardship,” she said. In August 2007, the costs of application fees were raised by 66 percent so it would cost $1,010 for one person’s application—the average income of an undocumented worker is $480 a week.
Max Rodas, Executive Director, Nueva Luz, said the immigration debate is one of proximity, “People don’t feel it is their issue, we must force ourselves to empathize with the immigrant,” he said. Rodas was undocumented for several years. “It was an interesting experience,” he said.
Rodas summarized that the root cause of anti-immigration sentiment is fear and cultural ignorance. “You don’t have to like us, but get your facts straight,” he said. Rodas encouraged open dialogue saying it makes solutions possible.
Burke said senators told her the pro-immigration block didn’t take the debate seriously. “Every time we sent out an advisory, a few people called their senators, but the lines were jammed by those who opposed,” she said and advised learning the issues with an open mind and making conscious decisions.
Allio said everyone can make a difference by ‘taking the time to write editorials to counter the myths of undocumented immigration, learn facts from reputable sources like the Pew Hispanic Center, participate in rallies, and encourage church communities to welcome strangers into their parishes.’
Noteworthy web site: www.aila.org, http://justiceforimmigrants.org/, http://pewhispanic.org/, http://www.dreamact.info/