Churches face uphill fight on immigration reform

WASHINGTON (RNS) Religious leaders hope to bring tens of thousands of activists to Capitol Hill next week to push Congress to act on immigration reform, but at least one study shows they may have to convince the pews before they can try to sway the politicians. The Sunday (March 21) “March for America” began with Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, mainline and evangelical Protestant groups; nonreligious groups now plan to join the march as well, with as many as 50,000 demonstrators expected to rally at the foot of the U.S. Capitol. Despite these estimates, a Zogby poll released last December by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that most members of religious communities want a decrease in immigration. Among those believing current immigration levels are too high: 69 percent of Catholics, 72 percent of mainline Protestants, 78 percent of born-again Protestants and 50 percent of Jews. Pro-reform religious leaders and advocacy groups, however, discount the study.

Muslim woman expelled from school in veil dispute

TORONTO (RNS/ENI) A Muslim woman has filed a human rights complaint after she was expelled from a Canadian college for refusing to remove her face veil. The Egyptian-born woman, who is a permanent resident of Canada, was enrolled in a government-sponsored French language class for new immigrants in Montreal, Quebec. The school, CEGEP St. Laurent, expelled her last November after she refused to remove her niqab, a veil that covers the face with only a slit for the eyes. The school argued that the niqab interfered with the language teaching, since part of the class involves proper elocution and seeing how a person pronounces words in French.

Priest faces nine years in immigration fraud case

LONDON (RNS) An African man who once sought asylum and set up his own church as a cover for smuggling illegal migrants into Britain has been sentenced to nine years in prison on 14 charges of violating immigration laws. The Rev. Anthony Quarco built a reputation as a respectable pillar of society as the founder of the Gift of God Zion Training Church in Brixton, a suburb of London. But a jury at Croydon Crown Court decided that Quarco used his church and jobs as an airport immigrations officer and a part-time policeman to smuggle hordes of illegal immigrants into Britain in exchange for about $216,000. Prosecutors labeled him “the most dishonorable man in Britain” for issuing fake passports and charging immigrants — including church fundraisers and choir members — $6,000 for writing letters of support in their bids to settle in Britain. “This image of the hardworking public servant, the religious man, who selflessly serves and protects this country, is nothing more than a front,” said trial prosecutor Jonathan Polnay.

Jews launch new year appeal aimed at Iowa meat plant

(RNS) Rebuffed after seeking a meeting with the new owners of an Iowa kosher meat plant that was devastated by an immigration raid last year, a social justice group is using the upcoming Jewish New Year to send a message from the marketplace. The Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, now owned by SHF and called Agri Star, has scaled back production since a May 2008 raid arrested nearly 400 suspected illegal immigrants, including children, working in allegedly unsafe conditions. Jewish Community Action, a nonprofit group that belongs to the Postville Community Benefit Alliance coalition of local and religious leaders, is distributing a Rosh Hashanah card that concerned Jews can print and send to new operator Daniel Hirsch. “In the spirit of new beginnings, we hope you will accept a meeting with the Postville Community Benefits Alliance to develop an agreement that will ensure: the health and safety of the workforce, strong and open lines of communication with the town, much business success and renewed consumer confidence,” the card reads. Hirsch, who could not be reached for comment, has said he is currently too busy turning the bankrupt business around to meet with the group.

10 minutes with … David Plotz

(UNDATED) For more than 30 years, David Plotz, a self-described proud but less-than-pious Jew, would robot through religious rituals. One day, bored at a bat mitzvah, he picked up the Bible and started reading. Until, then, Plotz had always assumed the Good Book was the collection of fables and feel-good stories he’d learned in Sunday school. What the editor found was darker and more complex: rape, genocide and swindling. And that’s just the good guys.

Woman aids immigrants, one hot meal at a time

ESSEX COUNTY, N.J. — It is 30 degrees on a Friday evening, just 14 with the wind chill. Twenty-one Hispanic men, all undocumented immigrants who could use an extra layer or two, bump into each other as they form a shivering, ragged line across an empty parking lot. They arrived at this spot with hope that around 6 p.m. a cheerful woman in a fur hat would drive up in a blue Nissan Altima laden with food she cooked herself, and some donated clothes. “When I reach the parking lot, they are looking to see if I’m coming,” says Miryam Torres, who lives in East Orange and allowed a reporter to follow her as long as her feeding site was not publicized. “And when they see me, they get so happy.

Clergy, lawmakers launch immigration reform push

WASHINGTON (RNS) Members of Congress joined religious leaders on Capitol Hill Wednesday (Feb. 11) to launch a coalition to promote a humanitarian approach to immigration reform. The new Interfaith Immigration Coalition seeks cooperation from the White House in reforming immigration policies, strengthening due process laws for immigrants and promoting humanitarian treatment of undocumented immigrants. “A good immigration policy is a policy that, first and foremost, keeps families together,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. Gutierrez, a Catholic, expressed concern that current immigration policies threaten to separate many families.

No “Doubt” about the Holocaust

The culture page of tomorrow’s edition of the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano obliquely addresses the themes of this week’s two big Vatican stories: sex abuse and Holocaust denial. A laudatory review of Doubt, about a priest accused of child molestation, says the movie shows that “reaching the truth is unfortunately a difficult result to achieve on such thorny questions.” Right underneath, a review of a new book by historian David Bidussa focuses on the coming challenge of remembering the Nazi genocide once the last eyewitnesses are dead.

Hispanic Christians rally for immigration reform

WASHINGTON (RNS) A Hispanic Christian group plans to hold monthly prayer vigils on Capitol Hill in hopes of pushing Congress toward passing an immigration reform bill. Leaders of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) joined Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., to urge the government to stop deporting illegal immigrants and focus on more pressing security threats. “Go after those who are a threat, but leave our families alone until this Congress, and very importantly, this president, fulfills his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, so that we don’t have these problems anymore,” Gutierrez said. “We want people to be able to adjust their (immigration) status, but people have to hear their stories.” CONLAMIC president Rev. Miguel Rivera urged his coalition of Catholics, evangelicals and Hispanics to pray for “momentum for comprehensive immigration reform.”

The face of traditionalism

Bishop Richard Williamson may be under fire for his comments denying the Nazi genocide of the Jews, but his Facebook friends haven’t deserted him. According to Williamson’s page on the social networking site, the bishop’s “personal interests” include “reading and listening to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.”

COMMENTARY: Bienvenidos a America

NEW YORK-I’ve seen my wife teach English as a second language in North Carolina and New York, and I know her classes offer three gifts: improved fluency in a difficult language; cross-cultural fellowship in the “melting pot” ideal of America, and giving America a friendly and welcoming face. It is mutual respect, not ethnic cleansing and midnight roundups, that will make us a strong nation. (Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project, His Web site is

Benedict talks Turkey (sort of)

Meeting in the Vatican today with the leader of the Armenian Orthodox and Apostolic Church, Pope Benedict XVI recalled the “heavy persecutions suffered by Armenian Christians, above all in the last century,” an apparent reference to the mass killings of Armenians by Turks around the time of World War I. Especially given past tensions in Benedict’s relationship with Turkey (which he once opposed for membership in the European Union), a more explicit statement would no doubt have prompted strong words from Ankara. In his own remarks, the Armenian Patriarch did refer to the “genocide committed against the Armenian people by the Ottomans.”

One flew over …

Looking over Christianity Today’s Best Books of 2007 , I was somewhat surprised that “There is a God: How the World’s Most Famous Atheist Changed His Mind” made it on the list. Let me first confess: I have not read the book. But this New York Times story from November of last year raises significant questions about whether Antony Flew, the “famous atheist” in question, is of sound mind. Writer Mark Oppenheimer visits the 84-year-old Flew and reports: “he seemed generally uninterested in the content of his book – he spent far more time talking about the dangers of unchecked Muslim immigration and his embrace of the anti-E.U. United Kingdom Independence Party. As he himself conceded, he had not written his book.

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c. 2007 Religion News Service KIGALI, Rwanda _ Gloriosa Uwimpuhwe stopped going to church years ago. Burdened by the memory of the 800,000 victims of the 1994 genocide, she hesitates to step foot in the sacred places where women were raped in pews, where children were slaughtered against brick walls. They are events too hard to forget, she says, and apparently, too ghastly for her priest to address. Often when she attended Mass, she would notice his gaze wander almost to the genocide memorial just beyond the church door.