Saturday, February 20, 2010

Clergy wants Congress to act on immigration reform

Clergy wants Congress to act on immigration reform

Religious leaders say it’s time to address ‘unfinished business’ of illegal immigration

By Victor Manuel Ramos, Orlando Sentinel

5:43 PM EST, February 17, 2010



A group of Orlando-area clergy renewed its call Wednesday for immigration reform that would legalize millions of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., saying that it's time for President Obama and Congress to address "unfinished business."

The leaders, led by Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Wenski, included Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal and Islamic clergy who said they were acting on their religious beliefs in compassion for the neediest. They were also representing the thousands of immigrants in their congregations.

"We are calling our nation to a change of heart, and hopefully, that change of heart will result in good news" for undocumented immigrants, said Wenski, a vocal advocate for legalization of immigrants during the past several years.

"The Catholic Church has a long history of advocating for immigration reform, but this is not a Catholic issue," he said. "It is an issue that touches on human rights and on America living up to its promise" as an immigrant haven.

The news conference was the local launch of a national initiative by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Justice for Immigrants campaign seeks to collect and distribute postcards signed by members of congregations and to deliver them to local members of Congress.

The postcards call for "immigration reform legislation that keeps immigrant families together, adopts smart and humane enforcement policies, and ensures that immigrants without legal status register with the government and begin a path toward citizenship." About 32,000 of those have been distributed in Orlando in the past two weeks, according to the Catholic Diocese of Orlando.

The Orlando churches launched the initiative just before the bishop said Ash Wednesday Mass for the start of Lent, a period of penitence and fasting. The bishop said it is "a time of conversion" that could serve for Christians to re-think their position on immigration.

Not all local clergy, however, think that religious beliefs mandate a specific position on immigration.

The Rev. Canon Gary L'Hommedieu, at The Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando, said that while the Scriptures speak of welcoming the stranger, their message is not to be misinterpreted as a pass on obeying the law.

"Circumventing the rule of law in the name of welcoming the stranger is not a moral mandate, but more of a sleight of hand," said L'Hommedieu, who was not at the news conference. "We are not reforming immigration; we are bypassing it altogether. What we have is a problem of illegals already here and the case has not been made that the existing immigration laws were unjust. They simply were just bypassed."

The clergy members who joined Wenski on Wednesday behind the podium said they owe it to their congregations to join what they see as a fight for justice. Some congregation members are immigrants struggling with their status.

"In our faith tradition, we are all immigrants, and we know we came from somewhere else," said the Rev. Priscilla Robinson, of the First AME Church of Rosemont.

Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, which represents about 10 mosques in the region, said that while Arab immigrants "mostly come through the door" entering the country legally, he wants to see all hard-working immigrants treated equally and afforded the opportunity to become U.S. citizens — as he did.

"Immigration is a touchy subject," Musri said, "but it is a vital issue that affects all of us. Millions of people live in our country undocumented and unable to contribute fully to our society....My happiest day was the day I was able to receive my citizenship."

Víctor Manuel Ramos can be reached at vramos@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6186.

Copyright © 2010, Orlando Sentinel

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