Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics said Thursday that they will press the day-old Obama administration to shake up immigration policy at a demonstration to ritually “cleanse” the national Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters following his inauguration.
“This team of faith leaders will show our faces … in solidarity to say: ‘Now is the time. End the nightmare that they’ve been living for eight miserable years,” said the Rev. Simón Bautista, Hispanic missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, during a news conference at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.
The religious leaders cited high expectations in President-elect Barack Obama’s administration — and significant electoral support from immigrants — as they voiced pleas for an end to recent stepped-up immigration enforcement. They called for broad immigration reform and demanded an end to workplace raids as well as deportations of undocumented workers.
The Rev. G. Whit Hutchison of Wesley United Methodist Church in Washington took that call further. He held up a pen and urged Obama to use one on Jan. 20 — Inauguration Day — to sign an executive order to end the raids and deportations at once.
“It would be emancipation from the shadows, the despair,” Hutchison said. “Why not call it the Immigration Emancipation Act? Why not do it on your way to the inaugural parade?”
The day after the inauguration, the religious leaders will join a march and demonstration by immigrant rights groups who plan to press the new administration on immigration reform.
Eight representatives of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement have already lobbied Obama’s transition team on immigration policy. They met last month with Dr. Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Stanford law professor who is co-chair of Obama’s immigration policy working group. Cuéllar’s name has been widely circulated as a potential Obama appointee to run the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
David Thurston, anti-racism organizer for CASA de Maryland, the state’s largest Hispanic and immigrant rights group, said Thursday that sponsors expect about 500 demonstrators at the post-inaugural demonstration. The “cleansing” will be based on African and Native American rituals that include “pouring of libations,” he added.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach director of Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., was quick to note that the immigration reform the clerics seek is far broader than that which will aid undocumented Hispanics.
“Immigration reform is quite often a euphemism for Hispanic workers,” said Abdul-Malik, who is the former Muslim chaplain at Howard University. He cited Eastern European, African, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants who would also benefit from a change in immigration policy.
“They’re coming to build America — not to tear it down. As a Muslim in America, I’m very concerned that we’re seeing the so-called war on terror being used as a technique to raid the houses and workplaces of immigrant workers.”
Rabbi David Shneyer, director of Am Kolel Sanctuary, a Beallsville, Md.-based spiritual renewal center for the Jewish community, said that protecting immigrants is essential to his religion.
“Our teaching in the Torah calls us … more than 30 times to be welcoming to the stranger … to treat them as part of God’s creation,” Shneyer said. “For too long, undocumented workers have not been treated compassionately with justice … We have a tremendous opportunity with the new administration to see some real change.”
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This story has been appended to correct the identification of the Latino group that met with Obama transition team members on immigration policy. Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) met with the transition team.
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