On Saturday evening, October 11, in El Paso, Texas, the Columban Border Ministries co-sponsored an interfaith Immigration Convocation: Standing with the Refugee and Immigrant. More than 300 people gathered outside of Annunciation House, across from the Columban Mission Center, to celebrate the spirit of hospitality in the El Paso-Las Cruces Border Community and to lift up the long struggle for human rights for the poor, the refugee and the migrant in the community.
The event began with a stirring call from El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar to treat all immigrants with dignity. This was followed by a moment of silence led by Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, for the 43 university students disappeared in Mexico. Violence and corruption in Mexico and Central America are root causes of the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso spoke about the strong connection between immigration and the Catholic faith. The Catholic Church teaches that people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their family. While a country needs to regulate its borders, it must do so with justice and mercy. Current immigration policy that criminalizes the mere attempt to immigrate and imprisons immigrants who have committed no crime is immoral. Immigration policy that allows people to live here and contribute to society for years but refuses to offer them the opportunity to achieve legal status does not serve the common good. The presence of millions of people living without easy access to basic human rights and necessities is a great injustice.
Other community groups and faith traditions offered statements from their spiritual traditions and declared support for refugees and immigrants as well as an impassioned endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform.
The music video of the widely popular song El Hielo by La Santa Cecilia was projected onto an 18-foot-wide screen before the crowd. The song portrays the struggles of three undocumented people trying to provide secure lives for themselves and their families. Within two weeks after its release in 2013, the video had been watched over 300,000 times on Youtube. The Miami-Herald described it as the “anthem of the immigration reform movement.” Click here to watch the video with English subtitles.
The video was followed by a panel of three witnesses who lost loved ones to the violence and corruption in Mexico. They shared their personal experiences with our broken immigration policies which force 11 million people to live in fear and hiding, lead to massive deportations ripping families apart, cause the detention of mothers with children and asylum petitioners who fear for their lives, leave unaccompanied minors without legal representation, and treat refugees and immigrants as criminals.
Comprehensive immigration reform from the national policy perspective was addressed by Congressional Representative Beto O’Rourke, who praised those in the El Paso-Las Cruces community who serve migrants and speak out for reform. Vicki Gaubeca, director of the ACLU-New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights also shared how comprehensive immigration reform serves our national interests.
The Convocation closed with prayer and singing of America the Beautiful, led by the St. Pius X Catholic Church Youth Choir. Columban Fr. Bill Morton read “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. This prophetic, inspiring, quintessentially American poem is an invitation to the castaways of the nations:
…”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Annunciation House, the site of the event, invites you to take urgent action for justice for immigrants and sign this petition to Congress and President Obama for concrete and specific action on immigration. The petition can be downloaded by clicking here, or signed online at this link. The petition makes the following seven demands:
- That Congress legislates just and humane immigration reform, with a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented persons living in the U.S.
- That in the absence of Congressional action, the president of the U.S. use executive authority to provide legal relief to undocumented persons to the extent permitted by law.
- That the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) end the practice of detaining individuals and families, especially mothers with children, who have expressed fear of being returned to their home countries, but pose no risk to communities or national security.
- That due process for refugees and immigrants in detention be guaranteed so as to prevent summary deportations, especially the deportation of individuals and families who fear being returned to their home countries.
- That detained unaccompanied minors who lack the sponsors required for release be provided with legal representation by DHS.
- That individuals and families from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala who are fleeing the violence in their home countries be granted refugee status and accorded the protections called for under the U.N. Convention on Refugees, of which the U.S. is a signatory.
- That church communities, civic organizations, pro bono legal services, and human rights agencies respond to and assist refugees and immigrants so as to constitute a viable and credible alternative to the detention of refugees and immigrants.