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Community rallies at immigration prayer service

They fled their homeland, like the Holy Family, looking for a better life.    
    Alejandra Luna’s mother is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. 
 delberto Cruz Carranza came to New Orleans to help rebuild after Katrina, was arrested in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid when trying to collect back wages from an employer and faces deportation.

Juan Molina came to the U.S. undocumented from Honduras in 1994. He met and fell in love with Jennifer, an American from New Orleans and they married, allowing him to become a legal citizen. They now have three sons and own a business.
    Salvador and Maribel Tejeda were undocumented when they arrived in America, became citizens through the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 and are now successful members of U.S. society.
    They all shared their immigrant experiences June 5 at “One Family Under God: a Prayer Service for Comprehensive Immigration Reform” at Notre Dame Seminary Chapel.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond opened the service by asking the Lord for strength and guidance as Congress debates how to care for immigrants. He prayed that every human be treated with justice and dignity and for public officials to have the courage and wisdom to transform current immigration laws.
    The abundance of resources in the U.S. makes it a moral responsibility to welcome immigrants who cannot find freedom, dignity or a livelihood in their homelands, Archbishop Aymond said. He urged everyone to be like Jesus and be a voice for the downtrodden; be the Statue of Liberty and stand for and open their arms to the oppressed and fight for immigration reform.
    “We must be a voice for immigration reform, and we will not quit until our government sees the reality of what is needed,” he said.
Reform needed now    
 Nick Albares, parish social ministry coordinator for the Office of Justice and Peace of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, called immigration reform a critical issue in the nation’s history and for many families in the New Orleans.
    The ultimate plight of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States is in the hands of elected officials in Washington, D.C., as the debate continues for sweeping immigration reforms proposed in Senate Bill 744. A vote is expected on the Senate floor by the end of June. The bill faces a tougher fight in Congress, said Susan Mary Weishar, migration specialist and fellow with Jesuit Social Research Institute.
    “The Catholic Church has been a stalwart defender of immigration reform,” Weishar said. “This could be the summer we get something done.”
    The church wants to see immigration reform that offers undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship (whereby citizenship could be earned over a 10-year period), promotes family unity (a family-based immigration system with provision to allow in family members of those currently living in the United States) and supports a more humane approach in dealing with immigrants and their families.

Not just border protection
    Albares said the Catholic Church is opposed to enforcement-only immigration policies. It believes the sovereign state has a right to control its borders but thinks if lawful undocumented immigrants were given the chance to become citizens, the need for beefed-up border control would diminish.
    “We believe ultimately that when we are able to move people to citizenship and institute a viable guest worker program that meets future demands for labor in the United States, that will decrease, if not eliminate, the need for people to feel compelled to immigrate in an unauthorized fashion,” Albares said. “If this takes place, we believe our borders will be more secure, and border officials would be able to go after human traffickers and drug smugglers... and wouldn’t have to spend money on people who are just trying to find work.” 
    Albares voiced another tenet of the Senate Bill supported by the Catholic Church:  expansive eligibility of citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Albares said the bishops would like the legislation to cover all immigrants in the U.S. as of the date of implementation, not as of 2010 or 2011, “to help eliminate people living in the shadows.”
    Prayer service speakers Salvador and Maribel Tejeda expressed gratefulness for their prosperity in the U.S. and prayed that politicians would work for immigration reform that is responsive to the country’s needs so people already here won’t live in fear of losing everything they have worked for.
    Jennifer Molina said all Americans are suffering because of current immigration laws.
    “We know so many people in our community who have so much potential, like Juan, that cannot be realized due to their (immigration) status,” she said.
    Albares sees the prayer service as a positive step for immigration reform and hopes it shows “our immigrant brothers and sisters that the church is here for them and the church stands on their side.”
    “We pray that (lawmakers) will have the wisdom and courage to pass legislation that includes a path of citizenship, promotes family unity, provides due process and affirms the dignity of every person,” he said. “Group prayer through public witness raises the issue and consciousness of the community.”
    Those at the prayer service were invited to complete and send postcards to Congressional representatives urging immigration reform.
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion   

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