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January 18, 2009

Priests, religious call on Obama to help immigrants

By Michelle Martin


About 30 priests and religious sisters and brothers gathered Jan. 12 in the chapel at Holy Name Cathedral to pledge nine days of prayer for renewed emphasis on human dignity and respect for human and civil rights.

At a press conference called by the Priests for Justice for Immigrants, the Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants and the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, Father Larry Dowling read a statement saying that, as the country prepares for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama and remembers the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., they will participate in a novena of “hospitality, hope and solidarity,” calling for all people to “welcome into their hearts people hurt by many forms of violence, to reflect on their plight and pray for their freedom from such violence.”

On Jan. 12, the first day of the novena, prayers focused on respect and dignity for human life. Prayers for the rest of the novena focused on: economic stability, respect for civil rights, criminal justice reform, working against racism, education, health care, comprehensive compassionate immigration reform and solidarity with the poor.

Empowering the poor

The groups’ main focus is on immigration reform, and that was reflected in the press conference that announced the novena.

“Our prayers, our hope as well, is that in his first 100 days, President Obama will halt deportations which separate spouses, and children from their parents, and immediately engage a conversation leading to the passage of comprehensive compassionate immigration legislation; that he will engage a meaningful dialogue that will result in a young girl or woman never wanting or having to choose to terminate a pregnancy; and that he, along with religious leaders will call all of us to become active participants in building a nation where all are welcome, where all are given the opportunity to fulfill their Godgiven potential, where solidarity is built not by exclusion, not by fear, but by calling forth the very best in each and all of us, especially for the empowerment of the poorest, most vulnerable and seemingly least among us,” Dowling said.

Immigration policies

The groups were formed in the wake of the announcement of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform in 2005, when immigration was a hot political topic. It had fallen out of the public eye, with little attention paid to it in the last election, and it has been further eclipsed by economic news.

But Royal Berg, an immigration attorney who is a member of the archdiocese’s Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, said that enforcement-only immigration policies are having a negative impact on the economy.

“The raids and deportations that separate families are leading to home foreclosures and fewer first-time homebuyers,” Berg said.

“Without the deportations, we would have fewer cars repossessed and more people buying cars. With immigration reform, we would have an influx of people paying fees to the government, instead of spending $5.1 billion arresting and detaining poor people.”