The 2000 census showed that at least 10,000 foreign-born people were residing in Tompkins County; more than 70 percent of them were not United States citizens at the time. Needless to say, the current national debate about immigration laws has significant local impact.
Thus, several staff members of Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga were among nearly 400 people who took part in a march and rally for immigrants’ rights May 1 at The Commons area in downtown Ithaca.
According to Edie Reagan, Catholic Charities’ justice-and-peace coordinator, participants focused on “the need to respect immigrants as human beings, the need to value the contributions made by immigrants to our communities and economy, the effect that U.S. policies have on the economies of other countries that contribute to poverty and the need for immigration, and criticism of the harsh and punitive nature of the Sensenbrenner Bill.”
That bill, named for Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc, is officially called the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. Passed in December by the House of Representatives, it also is known as H.R. 4437. The bill would make it a federal crime to reside illegally in the United States, while also levying a felony against anyone who assists undocumented residents. Among its other provisions, the bill calls for construction of a border fence between the United States and Mexico.
The Ithaca rally was attended by a mix of immigrants; student groups from Cornell University and Ithaca College; and community and labor organizations. In a speech, Rene Funke, co-director of the Samaritan Center, voiced concern that H.R. 4437 would render her a criminal for addressing immigrants’ needs.
Reagan noted that 177 individuals signed a petition circulated at the rally by Catholic Charities. The petition was addressed to State Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, stating: “The human dignity and human rights of immigrants should be respected, regardless of their legal status. We urge you, our senators, to work for the passage of immigration reform legislation that would: provide for family reunification, contain labor and wage protections for all workers and put undocumented laborers and their families on the path to lawful permanent residence and citizenship.”
Carlos Gutierrez, president of the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County, said he considered the May 1 gathering to be an important step.
“We do make a difference in this country. We made our voices to be heard,” he said. “The bottom line, the message to state and federal authorities … is that they cannot just make decisions about people without consulting them.”
Gutierrez added that Tompkins County immigrants, both documented and undocumented, “fill key roles in our local economy, enrich the local cultural landscape, and are productive members of our community who pay taxes, raise families and contribute to our schools, churches, neighborhoods and communities.”
Justice for immigrants will also be the focus when Catholic Charities hosts its annual Breakfast Briefing for Area Religious Leaders on Tuesday, June 13, at Tikkun V’Or Temple. Steve Yale-Loehr, a professor at Cornell Law School and an expert on immigration law, will be the featured speaker.
In addition, Catholic Charities collaborated with several other community groups for a March 16 forum on “Immigrants in Tompkins County: Challenges and Contributions.” A panel of local immigrants spoke about their experiences in the forum at First Presbyterian Church.
Elsewhere, Catholics from many parts of the diocese attended a rally in Rochester on April 10 to protest H.R. 4437. Additionally, the U.S. bishops have called for immigration reform that would create a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
EDITORS’ NOTE: Contains reporting by Annette Jim√©nez.