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Faithful urged to lobby Congress

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SAN DIEGO — Faith leaders from Christianity, Judaism and Islam nationwide are asking their communities to press their members of Congress to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, particularly essential workers and “dreamers.”

In San Diego, several Catholic clergy members, led by Bishop Robert McElroy, joined an interfaith prayer vigil on June 28 to urge action by their congregations.

The national effort is organized by Faith in Action, a coast-to-coast network of faith organizations that launched a campaign in June called “We Are Home.” Through vigils and rallies, the campaign points out that migrants have long contributed to their adopted country, have put their lives on the line during the pandemic, and have earned a path to citizenship.

Members of Congress are currently debating President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, whose goal is to create millions of jobs and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. The campaign is calling on people of faith to phone their U.S. representatives and senators to urge them to include a pathway to citizenship in the legislation. They may call (844) 332-6361, which will lead them to their members of Congress.

The San Diego Organizing Project organized the evening prayer vigil in front of the Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building downtown. More than a dozen clergy members participated from the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths.

Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano, from the San Diego Catholic Diocese, led the vigil, which featured testimonies from several immigrants and refugees. Each briefly described what led them to leave their homeland, their experience in building a new life in the United States, and how they have tried to give back to their new country.

A faith leader addressed each immigrant after they spoke and offered a prayer for them. Then they handed them a small American flag, telling them, “You are home.” They included Father Tommie Jennings, from Christ the King Parish; Father Martin Silva, from Our Lady of Guadalupe in Barrio Logan; and Imam Taha Hassane, from the San Diego Islamic Center.

Eulalio Flores was one the migrants who addressed the vigil. A member of St. Leo Parish in Solana Beach, he said he continued to work at a restaurant during the pandemic despite the health risks he faced.

“Unfortunately, I got COVID, and had to remain quarantined for several weeks, unable to make a living,” he said.  “I thank God that I’m a person of faith.”

“I’m glad to be here to pray with you and to ask for a pathway to citizenship for essential workers like me,” he continued. “I trust God that working in unity with our brothers and sisters in Washington, we can get the papers we need to live here.”

Bishop McElroy noted the vital role immigrants played during the pandemic, including those who are undocumented.

“We recognized them when we needed them, and yet when it comes time to recognize them as fellow men and women in our society, as families in our midst, we refuse to pass the laws that we need to.”

He said that many times Congress appeared ready to act to offer a pathway to legalize at least some of the 11 million undocumented migrants, only to fail to do so at the last minute.

“We can’t stand by anymore and watch our political processes — broken as they are — destroy the dreams and the hopes of the refugees and the immigrants who have not only come here and lived but come here and helped build our nation and make it better.”

The bishop urged all people of faith to act.

“We have to stand up and we have to demand action, to greet the stranger who comes to our border, especially those who are refugees and seeking asylum,” he said. “And also, for those who have been part of our society for a decade, two decades or three decades, and say to them, ‘You are one of us’ and mean it.”

He noted that the experience of fleeing injustice and repression and having to move to another place is “at the very center” of the Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith.

“Often people say, well, I believe in the faith, but that’s not primary for me; it’s a secondary issue,” he said. “But in our experiences — as peoples of faith — the experience of being refugees, the experience of being enslaved and threatened, these are not secondary from us; they are right at the core.

“So tonight, we stand in vigil with those in Washington who are putting themselves on the line to achieve progress, to change our broken immigration system, to truly welcome the refugees. Let us stand with them, let us unite with them across the whole of this nation. And let us do so as people of faith, because that is what our faith calls us to do.”

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