With immigration reform as the focus of Public Policy Weekend Feb. 13-14, programs in the Southern Tier are educating people as to why the Diocese of Rochester considers that topic so vital.
Nearly 40 social-ministry leaders and parishioners from Chemung, Schuyler and Tioga counties attended a forum on Jan. 11 at the Catholic Charities offices in Elmira. Serving as keynote speaker was Sister Janet Korn, RSM, social-justice awareness coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities. She is scheduled to speak at a similar event in Tompkins County on Sunday, Jan. 31, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at St. Anthony Church, 312 Locke Road, Groton.
During her Jan. 11 talk Sister Korn discussed the U. S. Catholic Church’s support for comprehensive immigration reform based on Catholic social teaching, and the diocesan Public Policy Committee’s reasons for making that its advocacy issue in 2010.
Kathy Dubel, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler, said Sister Korn "helped us sort out fact from fiction" regarding immigration and immigrants. For instance, Sister Korn sought to dispel the widely held notion that immigrants compete with the native work force, saying they actually complement it. She observed that in the Diocese of Rochester, for example, the agricultural community actually relies on migrant workers since it has tried to hire native farmworkers with little success.
Because these immigrants make significant contributions to the well-being and wealth of our state, the Public Policy Committee feels they should be protected by laws that afford the same rights, protections and benefits that all other workers get. And yet, the committee contends that immigrants face harsh judgment from law-enforcement officials as well as the general public.
"Migrant workers are the labor they (farmers) depend on to harvest the food that comes to our tables," said Dubel, a Public Policy Committee member. She added that the farmworkers are "real people caught up in a broken system" — not finding acceptance in this country yet still feeling compelled to come here due to poverty, war and human-rights abuses in their native countries.
To promote empathy for the migrant workers, Sister Korn shared photos from migrant camps in the Rochester Diocese and talked about some of the laborers and their families. The evening ended with a verse of "All Are Welcome."
Organizers of the Jan. 11 event distributed copies of postcards provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be used during Public Policy Weekend. Parishes throughout the diocese are encouraged to make these cards available after Masses on Feb. 13 and 14. Church-goers are asked to sign all three — one for their local member of the House of Representatives, and one each for State Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Dubel said that "the postcard language is a summary of the church’s position: to support comprehensive immigration reform that keeps immigrant families together; adopt smart and humane enforcement policies; and ensure that immigrants without legal status register with the government to begin a path toward citizenship."
Sister Korn also stressed to the Elmira audience the importance of helping people remain in their own homeland in peace and dignity. For instance, Catholic Relief Services works in 99 countries to achieve this goal, in part through the CRS Fair Trade Program that allows people to earn a fair income on goods and items they produce such as coffee and handcrafts.