Cardinal Mahony initiates immigrant rights campaign

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LOS ANGELES — A leading member of the Catholic Church has condemned a congressional resolution that, he says, further victimizes immigrants. In response he has initiated a campaign for immigrant rights.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, who heads the Los Angeles archdiocese, attacked House Resolution 4437 as “a new attack on immigrants [and] a very malicious bill that imposes restrictions and penalties on immigrants [and also] those who offer them any kind of assistance.” The resolution was authored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Peter King (R-Calif.) who chair, respectively, the House committees on the judiciary and homeland security. The House passed the resolution on Dec. 17.

Its key provisions include changing undocumented presence in the U.S. from a civil to a felony offense, broadly expanding the definition of smuggling immigrants to include the provision of services to the undocumented, eliminating many due process rights for documented and undocumented, involving state and local police in enforcement of immigration laws, erecting 700 miles of a wall along the border with Mexico and adding many new military surveillance systems for border patrol.

Cardinal Mahony announced that “the Catholic Church and many other organizations and immigrants rights advocates … are banding together to protect the rights of all … to see that it [HR 4437] does not go beyond the Senate,” and that the Senate would be urged to pass measures to increase legalization rights for immigrants. The Senate is expected to take up immigration issues in February. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy “strongly” supporting its passage in the House.

The cardinal said, “2006 will be a great year of struggle for the rights and dignity of immigrants … and the Church is going to step forward front and center,” mobilizing its base and joining in coalition with others “to influence those who write and vote on the laws.” The cardinal’s remarks came during a special mass on Jan. 14 celebrating National Migrants Week.

The hundreds of congregants were mostly immigrants and their families from virtually all the racial and ethnic communities from every part of the globe. Many were dressed in traditional ethnic attire. Ritual elements of the mass were carried out in ethnic traditions and the languages of many of the participants. Symbolic, scriptural, and theological messages emphasized the importance of justice for migrants for social, economic, and spiritual justice and unity of for all humanity.

The event opened with a blessing of the altar by indigenous communicants from the North, Central and South America that was led by Cristina Ramirez of the Tongva tribe indigenous to the Los Angeles area, who told the colorful and diverse congregation, “We welcome you as we have welcomed many others for many generations.” This was followed by a procession led by of scores of laity proudly and solemnly carrying white crosses with the names of their countries up the cathedrals center aisle.

Cardinal Mahony drew on several biblical readings to emphasize that the struggle for justice for immigrants has lasted “from Exodus to our times” as part of the spiritual values of “justice and equality for every human; an end to divisions, and a society based on love and peace.” The ritual responsive prayers were presented in Thai, Filipino, Chinese, Indonesian, Arabic, Italian, Lithuanian, Korean and English, with the response in Spanish and English.

Among the entreaties were for the church to “become ever more appreciative of its diversity” and to welcome those who are considered strangers. Also called for was an “end to the violence and poverty that displaces so many people from their homes and homelands,” that “leaders … implement policies that allow for safe migration, just migrant working conditions and an end to the detention of asylum seekers while protecting our national safety,” and also “that the United States of America may continue to be welcoming to those who seek freedom, peace and justice.”

The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops is participating in the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which includes hundred of labor, civil rights, faith, community and business groups, that has opposes HR 4437 and supports legislation that would provide legalization of undocumented workers. In May of 2005 the bishops established an official campaign, Justice for Immigrants, to educate and mobilize its constituencies and the general public regarding the rights of immigrants’ rights and legislative reform.