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Immigration and the Church

Migrant workers face dangers trying to find work

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SALTILLO, Mexico -- Migrant worker Carlos Vasquez's journey through Mexico to find work in the United States has posed one danger after another.

The Honduran was been robbed and assaulted almost immediately after crossing into Mexico from Guatemala. Not long after he was hauled away at gunpoint from the railway line near the Mayan ruins at Palenque and taken to hotel room full of other kidnapped migrants in Villahermosa, Tabasco.

"I knew that I was going to die there," Vasquez recalled in late March, while resting at the Belen Inn of the Migrants shelter in Saltillo in northern Mexico.

"I thought, 'I have to escape.' Thanks to God, I had the opportunity," he said.

Vasquez bolted from the hotel when his guard stepped out for a cigarette.

Migrants such as Vasquez frequently fall into the hands of kidnappers as they transit Mexico on their way to the United States. The Mexican National Human Rights Commission reported 11,333 migrants were kidnapped over a six-month period in 2010 as organized criminal groups -- frequently abetted by corrupt cops and public officials -- abduct Central Americans and demand ransoms from the victims' relatives.

The Line in the Sand: Stories from the US/Mexico border

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Following are video excerpts from The Line in the Sand, performed by members and staff of Most Holy Trinity Parish at the Celebration Publications conference, "A Light to the Nations," held Jan. 12-14, 2011 in San Antonio.

Scene 1:

Lucresia, a migrant mother of three from Mexico (played by Lupita Parra), embarks on a journey to the United States.


Scene 2:

Shana Machain plays the part of a No More Deaths volunteer, and shares her experience providing aid to migrants in the desert.


Scene 3:

Deacon Ken Moreland plays a Tucson medical examiner and Leo Guardado plays the part of an intern at the Mexican consulate. The two share their perspectives on identifying bodies found in the Arizona desert.

Congressional Immigration Advocates Push Obama

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Rep. Luis Gutierrez, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' immigration task force, announced March 31 a national campaign to hold President Obama accountable for promises he made on the campaign trail to reform the country's broken immigration system.

The campaign will include meetings and press events with local leaders and immigration advocates designed to put pressure on the administration. The first will be held on Saturday afternoon at the Instituto Biblico de Rhode Island in Providence; another will take place in Honolulu, Hawaii, the president's birthplace, in May.

Spearheaded by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a coalition of more than 200 immigration advocacy groups, the campaign will contrast clips of the promises Obama made on the campaign trail with two years of Congressional inaction, and spotlight the flesh-and-blood experiences of families torn apart by deportation.

For LA Archbishop Gomez, the issue is personal

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A recent conference on “The Catholic Church and Immigration: Pastoral, Policy and Social Perspectives” provided a measure of the church’s seriousness about influencing the national debate and convincing the wider church, in Pope John Paul II’s words, that “no one is a stranger, and the church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere.” Among the presentations given March 21 was a speech in the evening by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the recently installed Archbishop of Los Angeles.

As Gomez notes (the full text is below) this is more than a theoretical issue for him. He is, first, an immigrant who still has family “on both sides of the border.” He also is “a proud citizen of the United States,” who understands the effects of globalization and who also has a high regard for the rule of law.

Impossible choices on America's border

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"I was afraid that [the men traveling with me] would rape me, so I turned myself in."

Sofia* told me as we sat in a bus station in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. She was in tears. She had been caught by the Border Patrol entering the United States, randomly selected to be sent to federal court through Operation Streamline, given criminal charges, and deported back to Nogales.

Arizona, Utah debate immigration bills

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Senate voted down five immigration bills March 17 that proponents argued would crack down on illegal immigration even further than last year's S.B. 1070, which is still hung up by court challenges.

Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert March 15 signed a series of bills that have been described as a state equivalent of comprehensive immigration reform being sought at the national level. They step up enforcement, but also create a guest worker program that itself is likely to face court challenges.

Among the bills Arizona's legislators rejected were those that would have required hospitals to verify patients' legal status before admitting them for nonemergency care, required schools to collect data on immigration status and challenged the 14th Amendment's provision for birthright citizenship.

"All of the most problematic bills were defeated soundly on the Senate floor," said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, which represents the state's bishops in public policy matters.

Words Matter

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Opinion

Recent remarks by Kansas lawmaker Virgil Peck that undocumented immigrants should be shot from helicopters like feral hogs (characterized later as "just kidding") have reopened an important conversation about language and violence.

Fear-engendering politics, an old phenomenon that can now go viral on the Internet (Peck's remarks were reported in British newspapers), have always begun with pejorative and demeaning language. Think of all the ethnic slurs used to describe recent immigrants by earlier groups who claim superiority and fear encroachment. The label "illegal aliens" only tops the list of dehumanizing slurs used against immigrants from Mexico and Central America who have been coming to Kansas for decades to take back-breaking and dangerous jobs in agribusiness and meat packing industries.

The bishops, the DREAM act and militarization

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Opinion

As reported by the Catholic News Service on Feb. 9, Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gomez told a group of Catholic business leaders in Florida that “the church's approach to immigration -- like the church's approach to every social issue -- is never about politics. It is about preaching the good news of God's love for all peoples. It is about transforming the city of man into the family of God.”

Despite the compassion that Gomez as well as now-retired Cardinal Mahony have demonstrated for the plight of undocumented immigrants, a closer look at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops immigration stance reveals something quite the opposite: the bishops seem totally willing to play politics, and their oral compromise on the DREAM Act, the immigration legislation that was defeated last year in Congress, is a case in point.

New book on immigration and children

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The human dimensions of the immigrant experience can easily get lost in the big-picture news reports about the demographic impact of the waves of economic refugees seeking entry into the United States. Behind the statistics are stories about real people; desperate fathers heading north to find work, wives left behind or heading north themselves, entrusting small children to relatives until the family can be reunited; children struggling to adjust to absent parents or, once relocated, to new cities, schools, languages and people.

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez recovering from illness

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Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces N.M., who spoke at the Celebration conference on immigration in San Antonio, Jan. 12-14, is reportedly still recovering from a cold that developed into pneumonia and hospitalization when he got back to his diocese.

According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, Ramirez suffered some broken ribs from coughing, and this prolonged his recovery time. The story also quotes the bishop as saying he would be submitting his resignation Sept. 12, when he turns 75, as all bishops are required to do. Whether it is accepted and when is be up to Rome, he said.

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