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Issue Date:  March 3, 2006

Los Angelinos fast for immigration reform

Many Catholic parishioners in Los Angeles spent February fasting and praying for comprehensive immigration reform and to oppose harsh legislation that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and those who help them.

Several hundred schoolchildren, parents, priests, religious, lay ministers, community organizers and Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala gathered Feb. 1 at Dolores Mission Church in the Boyle Heights neighborhood to announce the communal fast.

About 1,000 parishioners out of some 2,500 agreed to reduce their intake of food one day a week for a month. Staff meetings no longer include food.

“We are calling and inviting our community to initiate a month of fasting and prayer,” said Zavala, in the hopes of persuading U.S. senators to oppose HR 4437, a bill passed in the House that would make illegal presence in the United States a crime, rather than the civil offense it is now. Estimates are that some 11 million immigrants are undocumented.

The bill also would criminalize the actions of doctors, teachers, social workers and ministers who aid undocumented immigrants at Catholic social agencies, hospitals, schools and parishes. Many could face felony charges and penalties including forfeiture of assets and jail terms from three to 20 years.

Pastors and ministers at Dolores Mission Church could face criminal charges if they continue to provide shelter, food and medicine to immigrant homeless men as they have for the past 17 years. And children who attend the parish school could face a painful separation if their parents are deported although the children were born in the United States.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research center based in Washington, one in seven undocumented immigrants is a minor. And for every undocumented child there are two U.S.-born children who have at least one undocumented parent.

“This bill in many ways says that any undocumented immigrant who is here is a terrorist, and I think that this is not true,” said Zavala. “I commit myself to fast and to pray this month as a testimony to my opposition to the bill, which would have an extremely punitive and harmful effect on our community, and to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes and values the God-given dignity and rights of every human person.”

-- Catholic News Service

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2006

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