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State’s Catholic bishops call for unity with ‘our immigrant sisters and brothers’

It’s not the first time the Minnesota Catholic Conference has spoken out on the issue of immigration, but Tuesday’s statement was a little different.

The group – made up of the state’s Catholic bishops acting as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota – long has called for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to divisive raids like the 2006 one at a meat-packing plant in Worthington, Minn.

But this time, the conference is appealing to individual Catholics, reminding them that “most of us have immigrant ancestors” and that “Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger.”

To emphasize the issue, the group has declared Jan. 4 “Immigration Sunday” in Minnesota, and it’s inviting parishes throughout the state on that day to explore the issues of immigration, educate themselves, and renew their “commitment to welcome our immigrant sisters and brothers.”

Materials for the event, including relevant scriptures and family tree worksheets, are available on the MCC website.

“Our people need to know the facts,” said Kevin Appleby, director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “They need to be aware of the hardships and the injustices that are happening right in our own local communities.”

Most Catholics support giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, Appleby said, citing a recent Zogby poll.

Sister Karen Thein, who coordinates the Hispanic ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Worthington, said her town is still feeling the negative effects of the 2006 meat-packing plant raid. “These families had made a connection and had a sense of belonging to this community. They had established trust relationships, and that trust was growing. With the raid that day, the community entered into a fearful state.”

She recounted cases of people being arrested and deported without even having the chance to say goodbye to their children. The families of those deported were left without any money to pay rent, and some couldn’t return home right away even if they wanted to, because they had small children who were born in the United States and had no passports to travel with.

“It needs to be done in a more humane and compassionate way,” she said.

She also emphasized that most immigrants would like to be here legally, but the system makes it very difficult.

“While we recognize our nation’s right to maintain secure borders,” Appleby said, quoting the conference’s official statement, “we oppose policies and practices that separate families and fuel suspicion, fear, intimidation, hatred and violence.”

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