Prayer vigil highlights human issues in comprehensive immigration reform

The Valley Catholic

“We Are One Family Under God” set the theme for the Feb. 26 prayer vigil on immigration reform at St. Julie Church, San Jose, sponsored by a coalition of church and community groups, especially PACT (People Acting in Community Together).

Father Jon Pedigo, pastor of St. Julie’s, also serves as the Diocese of San Jose’s director of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform (CCIR). He welcomed attendees and lead the opening reflection calling for all to be persistent in calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

Bishop Patrick J. McGrath was present, joined by several other faith leaders and representatives of the offices of Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Congressman Mike Honda.

Lofgren is chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Citizenship, Refugees, Immigration and Border Security, and Honda chairs the Asian Pacific Caucus.

PACT organizers Inma Gomez and Dione Rábago briefly reviewed the work of PACT’s community organizing efforts and success stories that include Healthy Kids and after school study programs in the Franklin-McKinley school district.
Congressman Honda, on videotape, noted that families are being torn apart by the present U.S. immigration system and that “is unacceptable when families are separated, especially parents from children.”

He praised the bill recently introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., as a beginning which addresses key issues, among them opportunities for immigrants to acquire legal status, keep families intact regardless of the status of individual family members, and create a commission that would set levels of immigration based on employment needs.
“Now, some immigrant people wait 10 to 20 years to be reunited with loved ones,” Honda said, “and backlogs and limits regarding country of origin are the legacy of the current flawed situation.”

He also said that the economy could be aided by immigration reform, especially in the current recession. Many small business owners are immigrants and small business fuels the economy.  He said there needs to be an “earned pathway to legalization for students who know no other country except the United States,” having come here as babies or young children with their parents.

“All Americans have something to gain from immigration reform,” he said. “No person is illegal. God made no person ‘illegal.’”

Cindy Avitia, representing Lofgren, urged attendees to “keep telling Congress to reform immigration. They need to keep hearing this.” Lofgren, she said, is grateful to PACT and other organizations and individuals that have continued to press for legislation.  “Today there are 55,000 undocumented children who graduate from U.S. schools,” she said, and they are impeded from getting higher education and entering the job market simply because they came here many years ago with undocumented parents. Deportations split families and jeopardize especially the young who are torn between two cultures and family members, she said.

Maya Ramirez and Carlos Morante presented a PACT research report which showed the ravages of the present immigration system on those who “are forced to live in the shadows,” are more susceptible to crime, are paid low wages and are often exploited in the workplace.

Comprehensive Immigration reform (CIR) is seen as increasing wages, will allow students to attain higher education, and aid job production, all contributing to a more stable economy. Testimony was given by members of the community regarding their own problems with immigration law. Their personal experiences detailed problems with the broken system now in place.

Eloisa, a legal resident of Santa Clara County, who is a mother, daughter and community leader, is married to a man who is undocumented. “I live in fear,” she said, “that our family does not have a clear and safe future. Each day we live with ‘what if.’” The biggest “what if” is the specter of deportation.

A 59-year-old woman, native of the Philippines, now a U.S. citizen, emigrated to the U.S. in 1990 and has been trying to get her children into the U.S. Her youngest son is here but her daughter and two other sons are still waiting, she said, due to the “red tape” of adult family reunification. “As a mother,” she said, “It hurts so much to be separated from my family. My daughter has three children and one of them is already 14 years old. I hope my grandchildren can come here before they are 21.”

Gabriel Thompson, a journalist and author of “Working in the Shadows,” told of his experiences working with immigrants in various industries, notably with Guatemalans in a poultry processing plant. “I worked alongside mostly Latinos for a year,” he said, “where they suffered many on-the-job injuries and still worked very hard in spite of low wages. They have already earned rights.”

A 14-year-old girl, a freshman in high school, expressed fear that she could be separated from her undocumented parents. “I have many Latino friends. They all worry. This feeling is horrible. Please help us,” she implored. She expressed the desire to remain with her parents and to eventually attend college, but knows that her parents could face deportation at any time.

Bishop McGrath addressed the several hundred people at the vigil and reflected on his own story of coming to the U.S. in 1970 as a newly ordained priest from Ireland. He had been ordained for service in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and was assigned to a parish there. His travel plans were set, but he needed to have his “green card” for which application had been made sometime earlier. “I remember being nervous,” he said. “Somebody delivered it to me at 11 pm the night before I was to leave.”

The bishop also recalled that when he arrived at the airport, “a voice on the loudspeaker called for ‘all aliens’ to report to a desk there. I couldn’t imagine what that meant and then I realized they were talking about me! There must be a nicer word than ‘alien.’”

“It is important for me to spend this moment with you this evening,” Bishop McGrath said. “Indeed, we are one family under God.” (See text of Bishop McGrath’s address, page 21) Participants signed postcards calling on Congressional representatives to help pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. They were placed in large baskets and were blessed by Bishop McGrath.

“We want to show that there is a diverse and unified base of people who want comprehensive immigration reform to be a political national priority,” said Matthew Malone, a student member of CCIR.  The vigil was sponsored by CCIR and PACT and was part of “Together, not Torn: Families Can’t Wait for Immigration Reform,” a nationwide mobilization of people of faith. “Together, not Torn” includes 100 local events and hundreds of thousands of pro-reform postcards from people of faith to members of Congress.

Participating congregations, Catholic and others, in the postcard campaign include Alum Rock United Methodist, Holy Tours, La Trinidad Methodist, Christ the King, Holy Family, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Most Holy Trinity, Queen of Apostles, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Vianney, St. Joseph Cathedral, St. Maria Goretti, St. Martin of Tours, and St. Julie Billiart, all in San Jose. Also participating are Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Albert the Great in Palo Alto; Our Lady Star of the Sea in Alviso; St. Lawrence the Martyr and Mission Santa Clara in Santa Clara; St. Athanasius, Mtn. View; St. Martin, Sunnyvale; and St. Catherine, Morgan Hill.