Rallying for immigration reform

News conference held next to Irish immigrant statue

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Advocates for immigration reform marched in downtown Davenport on Aug. 20 waving posters and chanting “What do we want? Citizenship! When do we want it? Now!” Their hope, they said during a news conference in front of a statue dedicated to Irish immigrants, is to get presidential candidates making the rounds in Iowa to put immigration reform on their agendas.

Quad Cities Interfaith partnered with Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, Minneapolis (Assembly for Civil Rights) and LULAC Council No. 10 to organize the procession and prayer vigil for immigration reform. The procession started near St. Anthony Catholic Church and stopped several blocks away in front of the Irish Memorial.

Barb Arland-Fye Antonia Alvarez, an undocumented immigrant, advocates for immigration reform during a prayer vigil and rally Aug. 20 in Davenport. Standing to the right and holding a megaphone is Father Ed O’Melia, a retired priest of the Davenport Diocese who gave the opening prayer.
Barb Arland-Fye
Antonia Alvarez, an undocumented immigrant, advocates for immigration reform during a prayer vigil and rally Aug. 20 in Davenport. Standing to the right and holding a megaphone is Father Ed O’Melia, a retired priest of the Davenport Diocese who gave the opening prayer.

“We chose this site because the Irish Memorial was built to honor the contributions and acknowledge the sacrifices of Irish immigrants at the turn of the last century. Those who come to our communities now may be from different parts of the world, but their contributions to build our county are just as valuable,” said Margie Mejia-Caraballo. She chairs QCI’s Immigration Task Force.

Antonia Alvarez, a founder of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles and an undocumented immigrant, told how she began her quest for U.S. citizenship 14 years ago. The diminutive woman, dressed in black athletic tights and her group’s T-shirt, was barefoot. It was a way to thank the people gathered for their support of immigration reform, for standing up day after day “because you believe I deserve freedom,” she said. “I believe in this blessed nation.” Politicians constantly ask how they can serve the people; they need to put their words into action, Alvarez observed.

One marcher, speaking through an interpreter, tearfully shared the story of her brother’s ordeal, which involved being kidnapped in his native land and his struggle to seek refuge in the United States. Deported three times and jailed, he was freed just days before the rally in Davenport. Prayers had been answered, she said. “Faith is why he is free.”

“What’s happening is that we have now criminalized immigrants. It’s immoral!” exclaimed Marie Bribiesco, a lawyer and political candidate representing the League of United Latin America Citizens (LULAC) Council 10, Davenport. She railed against the quota that has been established to keep 34,000 undocumented immigrants incarcerated each day in detention facilities. “This is not a partisan issue,” she said. “We must stand up (to the injustice) as Christians, as people of faith.”

Glenn Leach spoke on behalf of the Diocese of Davenport, where he volunteers in the Social Action Office.

“The church has not forgotten its origins or its struggles, and has been among the strongest advocates for meaningful immigration reform; reform which includes a path to citizenship.”

He noted that U.S. bishops have been at the border to see conditions first hand. They have visited the for-profit detention centers “where not just individuals but whole families are confined awaiting an uncertain justice. They have visited with the children, whose average age is 5, talked and prayed with their young mothers.”

Leach said the bishops “urge U.S Catholics and all people of faith to be part of the continuing effort for immigration reform because we believe that the life and dignity of all human persons is sacred.”

The Davenport vigil and rally, followed by a potluck supper at the LULAC Club in Davenport, was part of the Minnesota group’s tour through Iowa Aug. 19-23. They also visited Postville (where a huge immigration raid occurred in 2008), Waterloo, Iowa City and Des Moines.

They want action on fair and just immigration reform and a path to citizenship. Ned Moore, development director for Asamblea de Derechos Civiles noted: “Citizenship will allow us to be a more complete family.”

The vigil opened with prayer by Father Ed O’Melia, a retired priest of the Davenport Diocese whose last parish, St. Mary in Davenport, has a large Spanish-speaking population. Diocesan volunteer Nora Dvorak led rally participants in a litany whose refrain “All are welcome in this place” comes from a familiar Catholic hymn. The Rev. Rich Hendricks of Metropolitan Church of the Quad Cities gave the closing prayer. “We are one human family,” he said.

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