WASHINGTON – As a young teenager,Roger Mahony was caught up in an immigration raid at his father's poultry processing plant in North Hollywood,Calif. Guns were drawn,and people were screaming. Mahony thought everyone would be killed. Those swept up in the raid were later released,but the memory lingered.
“I've never forgotten that,and I thought for the rest of my life,I'm going to try to help this problem go away,” Mahony said on Tuesday.
Today,Cardinal Mahony,73,is the archbishop of Los Angeles,the home of 4.4 million Catholics in a state that has 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. Mahony has been an advocate for immigrant rights and has called for local and national immigration reform. There are about 12 million undocumented people in the United States.
Mahony was one of several speakers at the Center for American Progress who discussed a new report about faith communities and immigration. The Center for American Progress issued the report,which found that from January to July more than 25,000 people gathered in churches to call for immigration reform as part of the Families United Tour. The tour was led by Hispanic Evangelical churches and brought together people of different faiths from 24 cities to focus on families separated after raids and deportation.
The religious community's support for immigration is not limited to Los Angeles. Communities of faith across the country are showing support for their immigrant members and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. These efforts,which include vigils,potluck dinners and petitions,cross religious and ethnic lines.
“Religions tend to welcome visitors and adhere to the golden rule,meaning leaders are inspired by faith to want to do something,no matter what faith that is,” said Sam Fulwood III,author of the report,“Loving Thy Neighbor: Immigration Reform and Communities of Faith.”
The report states that faith based-activism is necessary to achieve immigration reform. It recommends enhancing legal migration,resolving the status of undocumented immigrants and reducing family backlogs.
For Rep. James Clyburn,D-S.C.,the House minority whip,immigrants should be treated like neighbors.
“Whatever your faith may be,I do believe that grounded in that faith is the admonition that we do what is right by our fellow neighbor,” Clyburn said. “Our neighbor is not defined by church membership,our neighbor is not defined by ethnicity.”
After witnessing the struggle of Mexican immigrants in Texas,the Rev. Dean Reed, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Stephenville,Texas,became politicized and started to write sermons about immigration. Reed's progressive ideas were met with some trepidation in the town about 100 miles southwest of Dallas.
“It's a tough sell in Texas,” Reed said. “Sometimes,I feel like a voice in the wilderness. But if you learn how to reach out to people,they too will reach out to others.” Reed is the co-founder of Welcoming Immigrants Network,which educates people and lobbies lawmakers about immigration reform.
In 2007,the House of Representatives passed a controversial immigration bill that would have made it illegal for people to provide assistance to undocumented immigrants. The Senate version of the bill would have put some immigrants on a path toward citizenship. It did not pass.
Mahony said current immigration policy is convoluted and needs to be mended.
“At the border,we have two big signs,one that says,‘help wanted,' the other says ‘no trespassing.' There is this conundrum we've created of supply and demand where we have no regular way to deal with the demand for workers,” Mahony said.
Ira Mehlman,national media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform said that,although communities of faith have the right to participate in the debate,they should not encourage people to break the law.
“On the one hand,you recognize humanity,but at the same time,you have to recognize why we have rules in the first place,to protect the interests of society,” he said in an interview.
“It is the religious hierarchy making these claims,and the people who fill the pews on Sunday may not necessarily agree with those comments,” Mehlman said.
For Fulwood,a fellow at the Center for American Progress,the key in gaining support for including,rather than excluding,immigrants is to change the focus of the conversation.
“When people see that the whole subject of immigration has a human face,and if we talk about that human face instead about numbers and problems,” Fulwood said,”then you can have the grounds to fertilize for reform.”