Comfort in a strange land

The Immigration Support Network, a subgroup of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, reaches out to aid immigrants

A forum for the Immigration Support Network seeks to find ways for churches to assist immigrants.

A forum for the Immigration Support Network seeks to find ways for churches to assist immigrants.

Photo courtesy of austin aslan

During this past Lenten celebration in one local Catholic church, a priest told the story of the Stations of the Cross, which depict Jesus’ experience during the Passion as he prepared for his eventual death and resurrection.

Then, an immigrant from Mexico told his story of illegally crossing the desert to arrive here in a country where he was unwelcome and figuratively spit upon and ridiculed along the way. The stories were used to parallel the experiences, suffering and anguish of these two men and, more importantly, to open up a dialogue between Latino and Anglo parishioners about the struggles faced by immigrants in the United States.

“I thought it was very beautiful,” said Austin Aslan.

Aslan serves as an organizer with Sacramento Area Congregations Together, or ACT, a faith-based nonprofit organization working with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento to provide services to immigrant parishioners through its Immigration Support Network. On September 5, the group is organizing a march at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to support comprehensive immigration reform.

While the 20-year-old ACT comprises multiple denominations, the Immigration Support Network is an exclusively Catholic endeavor.

“Starting from the Scriptures to the teachings through the centuries, our understanding is to care for the weak and the poor and the stranger, the one who comes among us,” said Sacramento Diocese Bishop Jaime Soto. “It’s part of the DNA of Christianity.”

After being ordained as a priest back in 1982, Soto immediately began working with the Hispanic community. He soon cultivated a personal commitment to immigrants and later helped families apply for residency and citizenship following the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986.

When incoming Bishop Soto arrived in Sacramento in November of 2007, one of the first things he did was revive the dormant immigration network, teaming up with ACT to create ministries in 20 churches that would be trained to provide reliable and trustworthy information to immigrant populations. The network is now in its second year.

“[The Catholic Church] recognizes the rights of people who migrate when there’s no other way to provide quality of life for their families,” Aslan said. “But there have been times when an immigrant knocks on the door of the church and they don’t know how to help them. This is geared toward changing that.”

The Immigration Support Network held three forums in its inaugural year. The first one, held at each church, covered immigrants’ rights and responsibilities. The second forum, held regionally, covered the legal and political landscape around immigration; the third forum was the bridge-building experience between the Latino and Anglo populations (a new group of churches are going through the forum process this year).

The group now has a window of opportunity to bring pressure to bear on President Barack Obama, who has said he wants to see comprehensive immigration reform before the end of this year, although the details remain to be clarified.

“It’s not tenable to take the 12 million undocumented citizens and deport them,” Aslan said. “That’s never going to happen. It’s also not tenable to provide amnesty here.”

Instead, the network seeks a policy that keeps families together rather than tearing them apart during the immigration process. The group also wants a policy that treats people with dignity and respect.

“We all agree comprehensive immigration reform has to happen soon,” Aslan said. “Families are hurting. How immigration policy is working now is broken. It’s broken for everyone. The undocumented workers, those standing in line trying to do the right thing, the business owner, the taxpayer. It needs to be fixed, and the sooner the better.”