By Barb Arland-Fye
Hundreds of postcards advocating immigration reform have been delivered to four members of Iowa’s congressional delegation on behalf of parishioners in the Diocese of Davenport. Staff and volunteers in the diocese’s Social Action Department are encouraged by the response and hope it helps convince Congress to take action soon on immigration reform.
The need is more urgent, they say, after Arizona’s governor signed a new law April 23 that targets undocumented people. The law requires police to determine the immigration status of anyone an officer suspects of being in this country without proper documentation. It also makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally. Several bishops have decried the law as unjust.
Earlier this year the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants Campaign launched an initiative asking dioceses nationwide to distribute postcards in parishes in an effort to secure grassroots support for immigration reform.
Social Action Department staff in the Davenport Diocese began gearing up for the campaign in January. Educational efforts have included sharing research compiled by volunteer staffer Glenn Leach, letters from the U.S. bishops, and a column on immigration reform that Social Action Director Kent Ferris wrote for the Feb. 10 issue of The Catholic Messenger.
The column also promoted the postcard campaign. In March, postcards were sent to parishes that requested them; then the Social Action Department collected the postcards for distribution to legislators.
Those who made one or more visits to legislators with the postcards were Ferris, Leach, volunteer staffer Loxi Hopkins and volunteers Nora Dvorak and St. Ambrose University student Sarah Wurst. Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, accompanied the group to deliver 210 postcards to the Iowa City office of U.S. Rep. David Loebsack, who represents Iowa’s Second District. The group also delivered postcards to the Davenport offices of U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (532), U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (528) and U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (258), who represents Iowa’s First District. Additional postcards were sent to congressional offices in Illinois whose constituents attended Mass in diocesan parishes during the postcard campaign.
Hopkins thinks the postcard campaign has helped heighten awareness about the nation’s broken immigration system and the need to repair it. “I think it makes people aware of the issues and the church’s stand on the issue,” she said. “It involves people in an issue who might not otherwise want to talk about it,” Leach added.
Ferris appreciated the succinct way in which the bishops conveyed the message. The postcard reads: “I ask that this year you support immigration reform legislation that keeps immigrant families together, adopts smart and humane enforcement policies, and ensures that immigrants without legal status register with the government and begin a path toward citizenship. Our families and communities cannot wait!”
Leach described the postcard campaign as a “prelude to other efforts to create immigration reform.” Arizona’s new law, he noted “is just another example of the patchwork of immigration laws that signal the need for federal reform.”
Referring to the two feet of social justice — charity and systemic change — Ferris said, “We’re talking about the right foot of social justice. This is about the need for making systemic change.”