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Jewish Journal

Jews and Latinos Join in Faith Rally for Immigration Reform

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

June 15, 2010 | 5:19 pm

The Dolores Mission chorus performs at a rally for immigration reform. Photo courtesy LA Voice

The Dolores Mission chorus performs at a rally for immigration reform. Photo courtesy LA Voice

More than 500 Jews and Christians — many of them Latino families — packed into the auditorium at the Westside Jewish Community Center on June 6 for a rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform, hosted by IKAR, a Westside congregation dedicated to social justice, and sponsored by LA Voice PICO, a group that fosters civic engagement among faith communities.

With more than 3,750 people attending four similar events across California, organizers say the rally aimed at focusing political and societal attention on injustices in the current hodgepodge of immigration laws while also putting a human face to the 12 million undocumented workers and their families who are an integral part of the American economy. Similar events took place in Florida, Colorado, New York and Massachusetts among groups affiliated with PICO (People Improving Communities Through Organizing), a national faith-based organizing network.

Social activists, Christian leaders from about 10 churches, and rabbis from IKAR and Stephen S. Wise Temple revved up the crowd with prayers, information and calls to action, while noting that no elected officials were in attendance.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform this year,” exhorted Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “We have had many years, two decades, of getting immigration laws that punish our community. ... What we’re saying is, enough is enough. We need laws that uplift us as human beings.”

The crowd, some of them wearing headsets with simultaneous Spanish translation, responded with chants of “ahora” (“now”).

Some of the most moving moments came when undocumented residents told of how the immigration laws had separated and stressed their families.

Christopher Alvarez, who is 23 and has lived in the United States for 20 years, is a community college student in Long Beach.

He told of how last month the Long Beach police deceived his sister, then seven months pregnant, into letting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents into the house. Agents took the family to a detention center, fingerprinted them and immediately deported Alvarez’s brother. The rest of the family was told to return for a hearing in July, and Alvarez is terrified of being deported to a country he hasn’t seen since he was 3 years old.

Wendy Braitman, IKAR’s lead organizer for the rally and a member of PICO’s national steering committee, said Alvarez’s experience illustrated why, as a first step to comprehensive reform, Congress should pass the DREAM Act, which aims to open a citizenship path for college students and graduates who were brought here as small children and are now suffering because of decisions adults made for them long ago. Currently, the act has 38 sponsors in the Senate and 120 in the House.

IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous invoked the Bible’s repeated exhortations not only to treat the stranger justly and to provide for the stranger, but to love the stranger.

“The Torah obligates us to love the stranger because our Bible understands that without love, the law is empty,” Brous said.

Around the room, photos of Eastern European Jews sailing into New York at the turn of the last century contrasted with the photos of Central American immigrants being detained in the desert.

The rally opened with “Yo Tengo Fe” (“I Have Faith”), a traditional hymn of hope, and closed with the IKAR Band leading “Hinei Mah Tov,” as Jews and Christians, Latinos and whites sang in Hebrew, “How good it is for brothers to sit together.”

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