Sunday, 10 September 2000

Meeting urges looking at big picture on immigration


The word "illegal" should never be associated with a human being, a speaker told an audience of 160 at a South Side church yesterday.

"Not one single person is illegal," attorney Isabel Garcia said at a meeting sponsored by the Pima County Interfaith Council, a politically active coalition of numerous churches and religious organizations, at St. John's Catholic Church, 602 W. Ajo Way.

The council held the meeting to educate people about its struggle to secure amnesty for undocumented workers, said member Daniel Garcia.

Instead of just hearing what immigration officials report, "We need to get a total perspective of what the issue is about," he said. "We want to start at the grass-roots level. Let's hear what these people have to say before we condemn them."

Several undocumented workers told stories of separation from their families, eviction and deportation.

"It took a lot of courage for those people to come here and speak," said council member Becky Lujan. "The fear is there that they are going to be deported even for just coming to a meeting like this."

Jose Contreras told about being evicted twice after landlords found out he was an undocumented worker.

"His landlady had his wife sign a paper that was supposed to be to fix up the apartment but it was actually an eviction notice," Lujan said. "They were thrown out in that rain that night."

The Rev. Fernando L. Manzo of St. Monica Catholic Church, 212 W. Medina Road, said recent immigration laws have created a "sad situation."

"Immigration law used to be very strong on keeping families together," Manzo said. "Now, we're deporting people that have lived here most of their lives. It's very inhumane. "

The separation of families due to immigration law leads to a host of social problems, he said.

"You lose that connection, the connection that keeps families on the right course," Manzo said.

Daniel Garcia said people need to understand that "the word 'immigrant' isn't a bad word."

"Some people correlate it with invasion," he said. "We're saying no, it correlates with human beings."

At the opening of the meeting, all in attendance were asked to introduce themselves and tell where their ancestors came from.

"That allowed us to reflect on the fact that we are all immigrants unless you're Native American," Daniel Garcia said. "We need to understand the human aspect of immigration, that almost all of us are immigrants."

In coming months, the council will hold public meetings on amnesty for undocumented workers with Secretary of State Betsey Bayless and Attorney General Janet Napolitano.

* Contact Thomas Stauffer at 629-9412 or at