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San Francisco archbishop on immigration reform: ‘Time to act is now
August 22nd, 2013
By Valerie Schmalz

“The time to act is now” to mobilize support for comprehensive immigration reform stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone told a gathering of priests and deacons Aug. 22.

Twenty-seven priests and deacons met at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in San Francisco to brainstorm ways to mobilize support for immigration reform at the parish level – but also to air their differences on the Senate bill supported by the U.S. bishops. St. Charles has the third-largest Spanish-speaking congregation in the archdiocese. Forty-one percent of all archdiocesan Catholics are Latino.

With congressional elections looming next year, and the historical difficulty of passing immigration reform, Archbishop Cordileone and the U.S. bishops are urging Catholics to lobby Congress to approve immigration reform now.
“We feel a sense of urgency,” said the archbishop.

On Sept. 8, Catholic bishops and priests from major dioceses will preach homilies backing changes in immigration policy, urging Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

In June, the U.S. Senate passed, in a bipartisan 68-32 vote, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The House of Representatives is addressing each of the components individually in committee, separating pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants from border security issues. An estimated 11 million people are undocumented in the U.S.

“We need the people power. We need to inform the people because once they are informed” they will mobilize, said Father Elias M. Salomon, parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth Parish in San Francisco. He recounted the story of a couple from Laos who came to him for help because they were to be deported and their four young children left in the U.S. “They are separating the families, it is awful.”

“Justice is important to us and we always want to be advocates for justice,” said Archbishop Cordileone. “Far too many people have been living in the country for far too long without the opportunity to regularize their status and it’s not helping anyone by keeping them in the shadows.”

Citing the Gospel admonition to “welcome the stranger,” Archbishop Cordileone said creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is a matter of justice.

“Experience shows it is really, really hard to get an immigration reform bill passed in an election year,” Archbishop Cordileone said. He noted there is ecumenical cooperation on this issue in the San Francisco Bay Area and that ability to work together on issues such as this one “is very much the ethos of San Francisco,” a city that has always been city of immigrants.

Christopher Martinez, program director of Catholic Charities CYO's Refugee and Immigrant Services in the archdiocese, said the clergy who met Aug. 22 brainstormed ways to implement immigration reform if it passes. Some ideas include mobilizing parish volunteers to help immigrants get the necessary paperwork together and raising funds to help immigrants pay the required fees for residency status, he said.

But another reason for the meeting was to listen to priests about their concerns, Martinez noted.

While priests such as St. Elizabeth’s Father Salomon are preaching homilies for immigration reform, others are skeptical about the Senate bill. St. Anthony of Padua/Immaculate Conception pastor Father James Garcia said he thinks the immigration bill can wait.

“My basic difficulty is the empty, the untreated questions in the present form of the legislation,” said Father Garcia, pastor of a largely Hispanic parish. “I’m all for the issues of helping the people who are here to successfully complete immigration.”

However, Father Garcia said, “The real problem is our borders are not secure.” The church recognizes the right to immigrate, but also the right of government to maintain its integrity, he noted.

Rather than pushing for this legislation, he said, “I think it might be more wise to let the issue mature among the American people.”


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