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Religious leaders, followers call for immigration reform

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Updated: July 17, 2013 6:56AM



Inside a government building in Broadview, Elena Segura was focused on comforting and counseling people. Within the hour, their loved ones — illegal immigrants — were going to be shackled and deported.

Outside, dozens of religious leaders and congregants from various faiths called on a higher power for change.

From Evangelicals making $250,000 ad buys, to praying protesters outside U.S. deportation facilities, to Muslim leaders and other interfaith groups holding press conferences calling out politicians, religious leaders and their flock have been vocal and active in pushing for compassionate comprehensive immigration reform.

Some represent religious institutions with significant numbers of members who are undocumented or have family or friends who are, but others have few if any such congregants. The need for reform is a religious, moral and family issue, the leaders say.

“I think in any biblically-based religion whether its Judaism or Christianity, you’ll see over and over again commandments that we treat the immigrant with compassion, that we have one law for all who dwell in the land whether they are citizens or strangers,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, where 530 families are members. “I find it very difficult to call yourself someone who cherishes biblical tradition and mistreat immigrants.”

Segura and Rosen have joined other religious leaders and followers in holding interfaith prayer services outside the U.S. Immigrant Detention Center in Broadview, where illegal immigrants from Illinois are last processed before saying tearful goodbyes to their loved ones and being bused to O’Hare and deported. Segura and Rosen have boarded the buses and prayed with the immigrants.

Wilfredo De Jesus, pastor of the evangelical New Life Covenant Church, which has 17,000 members in the Chicago area, will travel to Washington, D.C., next month to advocate for reform. He will join pastors who are members of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group founded by heads of evangelical organizations that range from the conservative to the liberal. The group earlier this month ran a radio and billboard ad campaign in key states calling for comprehensive reform.

Debate in the full U.S. Senate on a bipartisan immigration reform bill began last week.

De Jesus references this bible passage in the book of Deuteronomy in explaining his push for compassionate reforms.

“He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Religious groups have called for reforms that protect the unity of the family and establish a path toward citizenship and legal status for undocumented immigrants.

The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, comprised of leaders from more than three dozen religious groups from Baptists to Sikh, also advocates creating minimum wage provisions for all workers, the documenting of immigrant employment and compensation and calls for not criminalizing immigrants or those who provide humanitarian aid to them.

Leaders also contend reformers must look at why people risk their lives to come here. That includes addressing global poverty and unemployment, says Segura, director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Immigrant Affairs and Immigrant Education.

Last month, Catholic parishioners turned in more than 40,000 postcards filled out by members of more than 150 parishes in the Chicago area calling on members of Congress to vote for comprehensive reform.

At De Jesus’ church, leaders and members have provided aid to family members left behind and hurt by deportations.

“Families for us is a God institution,” said Veronica Ocasio, chief of staff at New Life. “We understand there have to be laws to keep our country safe, but at the same time, [reform] should be done in a manner that respects the family unit.”

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago, has given more than 100 speeches on the issue in the past few years.

“Families are broken; individuals are devastated,” he said. “They’re just human beings trying to make it. They’re arrested and deported without any account for who they leave behind or how their lives are affected.

“Social justice is a core belief in the Islamic faith, especially for those in a position of weakness. We’re encouraged to stand by them.”

But are leaders’ views in line with most of their flock? Ahmed says for Muslims, he believes they are.

“I think if you ask individual [Jewish] members, you’d get differing views,” said Rosen. “But I think overall there’s a very strong desire for just and humane immigration reform. I think for Jews, although it doesn’t affect our community quite as strongly as it might some Latino Catholic congregation on the far West Side, for instance, only a few generations ago the immigration issue was a very real issue for the Jewish community. I think that memory is still very powerful for us.”

A survey released in March by the Pew Research Center found that 69 percent of Protestants and 73 percent of Catholics believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay legally. The poll did not include other faiths.

Larry Greenfield, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago — a member of the Council of Religious Leaders of Chicago — contends a minority of congregants do feel threatened by immigrants.

“They feel that immigrants will take away jobs,” he said. “We don’t hear that often, but that happens. There are nuances. This isn’t all uniform. But even among those that are somewhat resistant I think there is a recognition that the immigration system is in disarray and that needs to be repaired in some fundamental way.

For the majority, he contends, “They hear the stories. They see the testimonies of gross unfairness, of violence against immigrants, prejudice against immigrants and say that’s fundamentally wrong. We’ve got to do something as a country not just to repair, but to build to something better.”



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