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Inland Faith Communities Highlight Need for Immigration Reform

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Hundreds of families from congregations across the Inland Empire joined with faith leaders to express the need for immigration reform with a path to citizenship and press leaders for change consistent that values the humanity of others, regardless of their country of origin. “Justice for Immigrants takes faith in Action” was organized by Inland Congregations United for Change, the local affiliate of the PICO network, a national network of faithbased community organizations.

In addition to San Bernardino, California PICO affiliates held similar actions in San Diego, Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

These events were being webcast, and at certain points during the event, live footage from the other events was brought up on the projection screen. Elsewhere, simultaneous actions were held in Denver, Florida, and New York, all with the goal of uplifting the community's need for comprehensive immigration reform at the national level, particularly in light of increasing hostility toward immigrants in the form of state-level enforcement- only legislation, the most glaring example of which is Arizona's law SB 1070.

As the choir sang the bilingual hymn “Be Not Afraid,” members and clergy from churches in Coachella, Palm Springs, Mecca, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ontario filtered into the event at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral, many holding yellow signs with pro-immigrant slogans. Robert Melsh of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Riverside and Nidia Martín of St. Louis Church in Cathedral City chaired the event, which began with a welcome and invocation by the Cathedral 's Father Alan Jenkins.

“Friends, we are gathered together today, people of different faiths, from different parts of the region and different parts of the globe, but we are united in a single voice, a voice that cries out for justice for all our brothers and sisters, but particularly those who have sojourned from afar and are now facing increased hostility. As a united faith community, we wish to lift up our vision of justice, rooted in our faith and in our values, and work together with our parishioners, our faith leaders, and our elected officials to bring about the peace, the harmony, and the integration discussed by our prophets,” began Jenkins.

María Guadalupe Ortiz then rallied the crowd by asking people to cheer when their region was called, after which each was greeted by a communal “Bienvenidos.” She then recognized the guests currently in elected office or their representatives and educational and law enforcement leaders, including Jesse Valenzuela from the office of Congressman Joe Baca, Marissa Lazo-Necco, represent ing San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Gary Thomas, currently up for re-election, representatives from the San Bernardino Police Department, and Dean Fred Jandt of California State University San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus.

Also present were Russ Warner, Democratic candidate for the 26th congressional district, the seat currently held by David Dreier, and Erick Jimenez, candidate for Rancho Cucamonga City Council.

The chairs then explained the purpose of the day's event. “Our purpose today is to join with other communities of faith throughout the state and throughout the country to ask our leaders to act to preserve family unity, to improve security, and to ensure the education of all of our youth. We have seen what happens when cities and states take an enforcement-only approach to the immigration situation:

Families are torn apart, breadwinners are held in lengthy detentions, students are told there is no hope for education, business suffers, and communities lose their trust in those sworn to protect them. There are steps we can take at all levels of society to ensure that our future is hopeful, our families are united, business prospers, and legal processes are just, transparent, and follow due process.”

said Bob Melsh. Nidia offered the Spanish-language version of the statement , and then introduced Reverend Sally Burton, associate pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in San Bernardino, who led the opening prayer.

Rev. Burton shared some of the life of her congregation when she shed light on how flock came to use the prayer: "It's something I came across while leading a discussion on immigration among our worshippers." The prayer discusses Christ as "crossing all boundaries between humanity and divinity," and urges compassion for sojourners and migrants.

María Quero, a parishioner at the Cathedral, and Fabiola Cárdenas of Our Lady of Hope in San Bernardino then shared some of the economic and social reasons to support immigration reform. But the emphasis was on the moral case for reform, which was delivered by Father Alex Castillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ontario. His talk centered on verses from the Book of Exodus, which charges the nation of Israel with the task of remembering their sojourn in Egypt and always welcoming the foreigner. He tied the scripture to the current situation in the United States, highlighting the tension between the restraints placed on the mobility of migrants and the free cross-border flow that goods enjoy under the current economic structure. He ended with a call to recognize the abundance, not only of God's love but also of His material bounty, which He calls upon us to share with one another.

The participants then joined the choir in singing “Acompáñame Señor,” a bilingual musicalization of the 23rd Psalm. The hymn was followed by testimonies from Amparo Resendiz of St. Louis Church, who discussed the impact of her city's towing policies on her life as an immigrant, and lauded the work of her fellow parishioners, through ICUC, in altering those policies to make them more sensitive to the needs of the community.

She was followed by Anthony Salcido, graduating from CSUSB this month as valedictorian of his class, who shared his experiences as an undocumented student and his hope for the passage of the DREAM Act, which would regularize the status of students who complete two years of college or service to their country.

The final testimony was from Josie Lucas, a member of St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Riverside. Lucas recounted the tribulations she endured during the process of her legal migration from the Philippines to be reunited with her husband Tim. “In the Philippines I went to the US Embassy at 5:30 in the morning until 3pm in the afternoon. I did this 3 times and they denied me immigration to the US because my papers were incorrect, even though I had followed their directions. I had to get attachments and add another part of the petition. I had to show them our personal letters. Esther Ruvalcaba, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Riverside then presented the next steps, issuing a call to action. She had no illusions. “It is possible they will not write a bill on immigration reform by June 30th of this year. After June 30th, Congress will be in election season and the writing of bills will slow down.

So if Congress does not reach an agreement this summer and create a real bill, we must start preparing for immigration reform in January of 2011,” she explained. She pointed out the possibility of a need to change tactics to press for administrative relief, or action from the executive branch to minimize the impact of unjust policies on immigrants, which may arise as a result of the closing of the window of legislative opportunity.

She also emphasized the importance of civic participation, particularly in the electoral process.

"We must vote. We must register. Only three of every fifteen eligible Latinos votes," she agitated.

The primary election will be held Tuesday, and in addition to choosing candidates for November's contest, voters will decide on numerous local candidates as well as state-wide initiatives about energy, insurance, and campaign finance reform. The service ended with a bilingual interfaith litany titled “A Litany of Healing for North America: A Nation of Immigrants.”

Clergy and lay leaders from ICUCaffiliated congregations asked for forgiveness, lamented, referenced scripture and history, and prophesized universal justice, while the congregants joined in the responses.

Father Alan lifted up a blessing, and the choir ended with the hymn “On Eagles’ Wings” before worshippers filed outside for cookies and lemonade.

While the road ahead is long and is sure to be difficult, particularly with legislators who are not always responsive to the concerns of the migrant community, ICUC members derive their resolve from their values, which are rooted in their families, their communities, and their faith.

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