A Los Angeles coalition on interfaith leaders last week urged President Obama and Congress to “enact humane bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation that is consistent with not only our values as people of faith, but also our values as Americans.”
The letter from the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders was read near the end of an interfaith prayer service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels April 4. Those attending included members of a group which visited Rome in late March, urging Pope Francis to, in turn, encourage Obama to push for humane immigration reform legislation in the U.S.
“Families are at the core of who we are as a nation,” Council members said in their letter. “Immigration reform must reunite families, not divide families and keep loved ones apart for years or even permanently.”
To that end, “Mass deportations of the undocumented population must be rejected outright,” Council members wrote. “Such actions would violate family unification principles, fail to address security concerns, and run counter to the values of American society. Comprehensive immigration reform must provide a holistic approach to reforming our immigration system.”
Immigration reform “is one of the great moral and human rights tests of our time,” declared Archbishop José Gomez in his welcoming remarks at the prayer service. “We are deporting people and locking up people in record numbers. We’re breaking up families, punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents.”
Pointing out that “these are human souls, not statistics,” the archbishop asserted that immigration “is not about politics. Ultimately, immigration is about us. It’s about how we treat one another. It’s about what kind of people we want to be. And it’s about what kind of country America is meant to be.”
The prayer service featured testimony from the Perez family, originally from Mexico and now parishioners of St. Didacus Church in Sylmar. In 1995, two-year-old Gabriela Perez — born with spina bifida and given a grim prognosis of a year to live — was brought to the U.S. by her undocumented parents, who were able to get proper medical care for their daughter.
Gabriela, now 21, assists her mother Claudia teaching catechism, helping clean or selling tamales and tacos when fundraising for various parish activities. Her 15-year-old, U.S.-born sister Karla was among those who traveled to Rome. The father, Gabriel, works as an electrician.
“I love my God,” Claudia said, recalling how one day, in despair, she fell on her knees and cried to God to help her children stay in this country as well as other children she had met throughout the years that were in the same situation. This is “a country of opportunities that my children claim as their own,” she said.
Her daughters urged the assembly to support humane immigration reform. “I hope and pray that our trip [to Rome] will bring results,” said Karla.
Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, cited the Holy Quran’s proclamation "Laqad Karramna Bani Adam," that "God has endowed dignity and honor upon [all] children of Adam.”
“As a Muslim,” he said, “I extend my unconditional commitment to uphold the principle of equal dignity and honor to all people, those with papers and those without. And, as an immigrant to this great nation, I pledge my solidarity with my 11 million brothers and sisters who continue to live in fear and in the shadows.”
Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, Los Angeles Region director of the American Jewish Committee, noted that when he is asked why, as a Jew, he cares about comprehensive immigration reform, he replies, “Because it is in our Jewish DNA.”
“We understand what the Torah means when it teaches, ‘The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ [Leviticus 19:33-34]. Our ancestors knew the pain and anguish of oppression, of being unwelcome strangers in a strange land. We must never, ever do that to others.”
“Whether motivated by economic need, political or religious oppression, or as victims of prejudice, migrants and refugees deserve our support and help,” added Bishop R. Guy Erwin of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“Immigrants are our neighbors, the very neighbors Christ commands us to love, and all our action and advocacy must be demonstrate that love and care for our neighbors in the support of just laws and compassionate policies toward both immigrants and refugees.”