At service, Haitians pray for immigration reform
BY TANIA VALDEMORO
Haitians gathered Friday at Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church to pray for a change in federal immigration policies after new political leaders -- Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and a Democratically controlled Congress -- assumed power.
''People in my church are being deported and leaving families behind. Those without legal status cannot work or provide for their family, and they can't send their children to school. We need justice,'' said the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary, Notre Dame's administrator.
The morning prayer service attracted at least 800 people, some of whom held copies of deportation orders.
Sponsored by Haitian Women of Miami, the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition, it was the first in a series of events this weekend as the Archdiocese of Miami celebrates National Migration Week and Roman Catholics mark the feast of the Epiphany, when, according to the Bible, the three wise men traveled from the East to pay homage to the infant Jesus.
On Sunday, Miami Archbishop John Clement Favalora will say a Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral to celebrate diversity among Catholics. It will start at 10 a.m. at St. Mary's Cathedral, 7525 NW 2nd Ave. in Miami.
Immigration advocates say they sense that recent political change may help push through temporary protected status for Haitians. If the federal designation were granted, Haitians, whose homeland has been roiled by political upheaval and natural disasters like Hurricane Jeanne, could live and work in the United
States for a temporary period.
''Crist can make an immense difference. We want him to tell President Bush to grant Haitians temporary protected status as a way of protecting Florida's borders and its children,'' said Steven Forester, senior policy advocate of Haitian Women of Miami.
Crist's spokeswoman, Erin Isaac, did not return calls for comment.
In 2004, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration decided to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority. The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform backs permanent residency for the undocumented, stronger family reunification policies and legal paths allowing
migrants to come and work, among other changes.
But the comprehensive immigration reform favored by Catholic Church leaders and others faces tough hurdles. The issue stalled last year when the U.S. Senate and House could not agree on what to do about the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants.
The Senate-approved bill would have given millions of undocumented immigrants legal status and created a guest-worker program. The House-passed bill supported building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border and focused on enforcement.
Complicating the political equation this year: Some newly elected House Democrats campaigned against legalizing undocumented immigrants. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California did not include immigration reform on her priority list for her first 100 hours as leader, although her counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Henry Reid of Nevada, said Thursday it would be among Senate Democrats' top 10 bills this year.
For Haitians, immigration reform is not only a wise domestic policy but a smart U.S. investment in stability for Haiti. With each person deported, Forester said, several family members and friends in Haiti lose financial help. Haitian economist Pierre-Marie Boisson told The Miami Herald last year that the country's economic growth is not being generated by private investments but mainly by the $1 billion in remittances Haitians living abroad sent back last year to relatives.
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