STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Staten Island clergy and laity called for comprehensive immigration reform during a forum on Monday at St. Clare’s R.C. Church in Great Kills, where immigrants gave heart-wrenching witness to their experiences.
A theme stressed repeatedly by the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith leaders, as well as the immigrants, was a need for immigration legislation that offers a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented workers and an end to detentions and deportations that rip apart families of undocumented workers.
City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn sent a representative to the forum and later issued a statement in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
Supporters are mobilizing for an immigration reform march sponsored by Alliance for Citizenship on April 10 in Washington, D.C., and are asking churches to sponsor voter registration drives and welcome immigrants to speak about their issues to their congregations.
Muslims were among those who gave witness to mistreatment by immigration authorities. Among the advocates speaking at the forum were Dr. Ahmed Jaber, president, and Linda Sarsour, executive director, of the Arab American Association of New York.
Maria, an immigrant from Mexico and 22-year resident of Staten Island, gave a compelling account of losing everything but her family when Hurricane Sandy destroyed their home in Midland Beach.
Rev. Susan Karlson, pastor of the Unitarian Church of Staten Island in New Brighton, a leader in the movement and a partner with El Centro del Inmigrante, said that many of the Hurricane Sandy survivors who were immigrants had difficulty accessing government and other services because of their immigration status and language barriers.
“We know families that have been torn apart by deportation proceedings,” Rev. Karlson said. “Children waking to find a parent deported, finding out they may never see that parent again; children who have spent almost their entire life in this country, but one day they are sent to a country that is not really their own.”
She said that immigrants often are denied access to health care, a living wage and adequate housing.
“The time is right to work together for comprehensive immigration reform, to create an immigration system that does not divide families and that acknowledges the basic human rights, dignity and justice for all people in our boroughs,” Rev. Karlson said.
A PLACE OF HOPE
“People see America as a place of opportunity and a place of hope and new life and a better future,” said the Rev. Janet Jones of Rossville AME Zion Church and president of the Staten Island Council of Churches. “It’s incumbent on us to embrace immigrants in ways that help us and them.”
Although Rev. Jones and her council support immigration reforms, she stressed that laws alone aren’t going to bring the changes desired.
“It’s how we live out that legislation — begin living it out now even though it doesn’t exist,” Rev. Jones said.
She stressed that welcoming immigrants in houses of worship could save lives.
“I have met people whose immigration treatment has been so rough that they feel like going home and taking their own lives,” Rev. Jones shared, adding “that is an indictment on us” as a society.
Among the other speakers at the forum sponsored by Staten Island Clergy Leadership, Staten Island Immigrants Council, Verrazano Civic Engagement, Table and Eye Openers Youth Against Violence were: Rabbi Michael Howald of Temple Israel Reform Congregation of Staten Island; Gonzalo Mercado, executive director of El Centro del Inmigrante; Rev. Agnes McBeth of St. Philip’s Baptist Church; Dan Coates of Make the Road New York; Rev. Richard Guastella, pastor of St. Clare’s; Rev. Terry Troia, executive director of Project Hospitality.
For information about immigration efforts and issues, visit Makethe road.org or call 718-727-1222.