You’ve probably never seen this sentence written in Spanish before, but it should be familiar. In English it reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
It’s been inscribed in the base of the Statue of Liberty since 1886. But come to think of it, we Americans aren’t as welcoming of the poor, the tired and the huddled masses as we once were.
There are now about 11 million illegal or undocumented immigrants (whichever term you prefer) living in the United States in legal limbo with no path to citizenship.
A rally to remind people of this fact will be held in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 10 in support of immigration reform. Among those who will attend from Philadelphia are two busloads of mostly immigrants from Latin America, leaving for the rally from Visitation B.V.M. Parish in the Kensington section of the city, an area teeming with immigrants from the world over.
Local efforts are being coordinated by the New Sanctuary Movement, which will begin the day with a prayer service at Visitation before departure to Washington for the afternoon rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
The rally is expected to attract tens of thousands of immigrants and supporters of their rights. It will also include visits to congresspersons to urge support for comprehensive immigration reform.
Prior to the rally there will be a 10 a.m. Mass at St. Aloysius Church at 900 Capitol St., sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign.
“We are all God’s children; we want to see a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without too many obstacles,” said Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of New Sanctuary Movement Philadelphia, an interfaith, multicultural immigrant-rights coalition.
Pedemonti is not himself an immigrant but the child of immigrants from Italy and England, and he knows first-hand the struggles immigrants face. For him other important issues would be cleaning up the waiting list for legal immigration, worker protection laws for immigrants and stopping the militarization of the borders.
Redemptorist Father Tom McCluskey, who is assigned at Visitation Parish, will be among those traveling to Washington that day. He sees the immigrants as a real force for good in Kensington.
“They are the ones who are working to improve the neighborhood,” he said. “They are taking chances. Their businesses employ all sorts of people, and we want to regularize their immigration.”
Another important point, he believes, is passage of the Dream Act which would allow the children who were brought to this country by their parents to receive benefits.
The rally has the full support of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Migrants and Refugees according to the director, Matthew Davis, whose own immigrant links are grandparents from Sicily.
“It is really important that we keep opening the door to newcomers,” said Davis, who will be among those in Washington. “As Christians it is pretty clear we must welcome the stranger, welcome the foreigner. It’s part of our faith.”
Other area groups that will participate will be coming from Allentown, Norristown, Center City and South Philadelphia.
“I’ll be going down by myself,” said Trinitarian Sister Maria Lawrence, who works among immigrants at St. Thomas and Annunciation parishes in South Philadelphia.
“Most of the people down here will be going with Juntos, a Latino community group that is sending four buses,” she explained.
“I think this is important, and it does look like there will be reform – a path to citizenship,” Sister Maria Lawrence said. “I think a bill will come up next week. A path to citizenship is especially important because of the children, for example if the children were born in the U.S. after the family arrived. They have citizenship, but their parents do not. We have seen families separated when the parents are deported.”
For more information contact the archdiocesan Office for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees at 215-587-3540.
Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer and a member of St. Leo Parish, Philadelphia.