April 14, 2006

Thousands participate in march for immigration reform

By Mike Krokos

Dressed in white to show solidarity, they lined up for blocks on downtown Indianapolis streets, waving miniature American flags and carrying placards.

“God Bless America,” “The Dream continues,” “Immigrants make good Americans” and “Immigrants are Hoosiers” read some of the signs.

Others in the crowd of more than 20,000 people displayed bilingual posters: “Somos todos inmigrantes,” one read in Spanish; “We are all immigrants,” in English.

As part of a national “Day of Action for Immigration Justice,” similar scenes played out in cities across the country as hundreds of thousands of rallygoers urged lawmakers to help an estimated 12 million immigrants settle legally in the United States.

Indiana rally participants spanned generations; there were infants in strollers, toddlers, parents and grandparents. Hispanic rallygoers were joined by Anglos and others who used simple words to express themselves, but the message shared by the group was a powerful one: Immigration reform is something many Indiana residents support. On Monday, April 10, they let their voices be heard on the matter.

“I really believe immigrants need our respect,” said Sara Spalding, who attended the rally with her 4-month-old daughter, Mariana Spalding-Price, and her 2-year-old son, Miguel.

Spalding, who is a 1995 graduate of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, said the social justice lessons she learned in high school shape the person she is today.

“It was really empowering to learn [those things],” said Spalding, who is a tutor and also teaches English as a Second Language. “It is our responsibility to work to make things better. I feel it’s really important to others in our community.

“Some people are not being recognized as full human beings,” she added. “Everyone is God’s child.”

Juan Escamez, pastoral associate to the Hispanic community at St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis, attended the rally with 50 other supporters of immigration reform. He said St. Philip Neri’s Sunday Spanish Mass is always packed, and added there are currently 500 to 600 Hispanic families who worship there.

“I think it’s important to stand up for the rights of people,” said Escamez, a native of Spain who moved to the United States with his family 25 years ago.

“It is important to defend the poor, the oppressed, the outcast,” he added. “That’s why we’re here.”

Lisa Guerrero, who works with the youth at St. Philip Neri Parish, has been married to her husband, Rene, a native of Mexico, for seven years. She said many Hispanic immigrants are Catholic, and they are made to feel welcome at the parish.

“They have dreams,” she said. “They’re very good people, down to earth, but a lot of them are so scared here.”

Some, like Ismael Aguilar, embrace the chance to begin a new life here.

The rally, said the native of Mexico who moved to Indiana two years ago, was “a way we can show we’re here.

“We’re humans, too,” said Aguilar, who works with Hispanic youths at St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis. “We want to better our lives.”

As a Church made up of immigrants, the Catholic Church teaches its members to welcome the stranger, said Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein in a prepared statement.

“Our nation has always welcomed immigrants, refugees and exiles fleeing oppression and seeking the opportunity to achieve a full life,” Archbishop Buechlein wrote. “We must ensure that our immigration policy fulfills this precedent for recent immigrants and not only those in the past.”

The archbishop said we need an immigration policy that protects human dignity and promotes the common good.

Franciscan Father Tom Fox, who ministers to Hispanic Catholics at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis and St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville, said the Indiana rally was a wonderful demonstration.

“We were definitely happy to see all the people,” Father Tom said.

He emphasized that participants had an important message: Immigrants are real people, with families, who want a life here.

“Being an immigrant is not a disgrace,” Father Tom said.

It’s now up to politicians to get the immigration situation resolved, Father Tom added.

While Congress continues its debate on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., the Church will stand in solidarity with its immigrant brothers and sisters in Christ, Father Tom said.

It is, after all, a fabric of our faith, one shared in a joint migration statement issued in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Mexican bishops’ conference, Father Tom noted.

“I think it’s because the immigrant needs to be welcomed,” he said of the Church’s support. “That’s Jesus’ message to us.” †


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