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Latinos need to know their rights

BY Demetria Martinez

Pasqual Manalio is a wiry, energetic Dominican brother who is fluent in Spanish, church teaching on immigrants, and the machinations of the United States Border Patrol.

Based at Most Holy Trinity Church in Phoenix, Manalio and his Hispanic ministry team in May convened a “Know Your Rights” workshop: The purpose: to inform parishioners of measures to take when confronted by border patrol agents.

“The [Immigration and Naturalization Service] has the power -- but we have the people,” Manalio said.

And the INS has not hesitated to exercise its power in very high-profile ways, explained Manalio.

Last February, agents targeted the Most Holy Trinity neighborhood for intense surveillance and raids that spanned about seven days.

In one highly publicized incident, agents parked across from Mountain View elementary school; as parents arrived in the afternoon to pick up their children, they were subjected to random questioning -- and worse.

“They were stopped because of their looks,” said Arturo Gonzalez of the Hispanic ministry team. “The kids were standing there” as agents detained and, in some cases, handcuffed parents, he said.

“It’s awful,” said Gonzalez, explaining that fear of border patrol activity is a constant for many, both documented and undocumented. “You have to look over your shoulder all the time.”

About a third of the 2,500 families who belong to Holy Trinity are Latino; of these, probably half are undocumented immigrants, Gonzalez said.

Given stepped up border patrol activity nationwide, educating parishioners about their rights should be integral to ministry to Latinos, Gonzalez and Manalio agreed.

Roberto Martinez and Jose Matus of the Arizona Border Rights Project/Derechos Humanos, based in Tucson, led the workshop. They were joined by Judy Flannagan, an immigration attorney who works in Phoenix.

Malanio greeted parishioners as they streamed into the meeting room. Inside, on a table with a lit candle, were three-page information sheets in Spanish on church letterhead.

The first two pages cite various church documents that speak to the plight of those forced to leave their native lands in search of a better life. The last page offers tips on what to do before, during and after an INS raid (for example, always carry the phone number of a community group or lawyer that can offer advice).

Gonzalez explained that a number of the parishioners at the Know Your Rights workshop belong to Fuente del Futuro, a mother’s group that promotes cultural activities at Mountain View elementary. After the February raid, they organized a meeting with the INS that drew about 200 people.

That and subsequent meetings have proved fruitless.

Said Manalio, “The border patrol’s stance is, ‘We’re just doing our job.’ And what I heard the people saying is, ‘We’re human beings. We’re tired of being hunted like animals.’ ”

Fr. Miguel Rolland, pastor at Most Holy Trinity, has pushed INS officials to meet with his entire parish on church grounds. Things do not look hopeful, however. After agreeing to meet with Rolland and a small group at church offices last March, INS officials canceled, Manalio said.

Despite such difficulties, the Hispanic ministry team is enthusiastic about the role the Catholic church can play in empowering its people.

In September, Manalio will speak of his parish’s experience at a conference about the border. The event is being organized by the Tucson diocese. He said he hopes that those who were involved in the Sanctuary Movement some years ago will become involved in the plight of immigrants -- victims of U.S.-backed free trade policies that have devastated Mexico’s poor.

Nancee Irwin, a member of the parish council, urged non-Latinos to involve themselves in the issue in order to bridge the divide between those who experience daily “racial profiling” by the border patrol and those who do not. “Anglos need to be here (at the workshop)” said Irwin.

Manalio said, “The bottom line for us is church teaching. ... That’s our moral high ground. We stand with the people.”

Demetria Martinez lives in Tucson, Ariz. She is the author of a novel, Mother Tongue, published by Bilingual Press, Tempe, Ariz.

National Catholic Reporter, July 16, 1999