A multi-faith group of about 500 people gathered at St. Mary’s Cathedral Saturday to pray and call for immigration reform.
Clergy from 11 Bay area congregations led the service, including four from the Mission District: St. Peters and St. Anthony’s Churches, the Mission Dolores Basilica, and Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. The event was organized by the San Francisco Organizing Project and other faith-based pro-immigrant groups.
Though the health care debate has dominated national politics lately, Bishop William Justice of the San Francisco Archdiocese said it was important not to lose sight of immigration reform. “There are real people being deported. Families are being separated … we want to say, ‘Hey wait, this issue hasn’t gone away.’”
The service began with a lay-led reading in English and Spanish of Isaiah 58:5-12, with verses such as, “If you spend yourself in behalf of the hungry/ and satisfy the needs of the oppressed/ then your light will rise in the darkness/ and your night will become like the noonday.”
Next came testimony from a woman whose husband was deported in January. The woman declined to give her name because of her own immigration status, but told the crowd that her family had lost its home after her husband was sent back to his native country.
Standing with a baby in her arms and two of her older children at her side, she said her kids constantly ask for their father. “I want you to know that there are thousands and thousands of mothers like me, suffering from the immigration raids,” she said.
Bishop Justice said, “Dear Lord, help us to remember when we speak of immigrants and refugees, we speak of Christ.”
Angela Chan, a staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, spoke about the 160 undocumented youth who have been held in immigration detention or deported since July 2008 when Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered state and city employees to alert immigration authorities as soon as an undocumented juvenile was charged with a felony.
“This was not supposed to happen in San Francisco,” she said. The city marks its 20th anniversary of becoming a Sanctuary City in October.
Chan urged the crowd to support passage of Supervisor David Campos’ legislation that would restore due process to undocumented immigrant youth. The Board of Supervisors will vote on the legislation on Oct. 20.
Several elected officials, including Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Eric Mar and John Avalos, and Vice President of the Board of Education Jane Kim, attended and were called to the pulpit to be blessed.
The officials gathered in front of the church and bowed their heads. The clergy extended their hands toward them. The worshipers did the same. Led by the Rev. Israel Alvarán, the group prayed for God to give the officials the strength to fight for immigrant rights. “Give them a double portion of courage, so they will stand for us and speak for us,” said Alvarán.
After the service, Maria de Lourdes Rodríguez, a St. Peter’s parishioner, said undocumented immigrants need a path to citizenship. The U.S. should remember its own roots, she continued. “Diversity is what makes this country so strong and important. Immigrants are the foundation of this country.”
Sonia Miranda, a Mission District resident who came to the U.S. from Nicaragua in 1985, knows firsthand the difficulty of living without legal status. “If you don’t have documents, you don’t have rights,” she said.
Miranda, who came to this country illegally along with her husband and toddler son, spent her first years in the country working 12-hour shifts as a dishwasher for $20 a day.
“They exploit you when you’re undocumented,” she said. “And instead of complaining, we say, ‘At least I have a job.”’
Things got harder when Miranda left her abusive husband. She worked 16-hour days and often had to leave her son, who was in elementary school by then, home alone. “Those times were so hard and frightening,” she said.
But she became a citizen in 1989 and now helps other immigrants with their paperwork. She learned English and got an associates degree in science from City College and went on to be trained as both a nurse and a pre-school teacher.
Her son graduated on Saturday from an apprenticeship with a local union.
She wants others to have the same opportunities. “What I most want is immigration reform that will give people a life of hope and of family,” she said.