Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Those who want to make sure an Arizona-style immigration law does not get passed in Oregon march around a federal building in downtown Portland.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Those who want to make sure an Arizona-style immigration law does not get passed in Oregon march around a federal building in downtown Portland.
Wearing a crucifix and a Chicago Cubs baseball cap, Oregon City farmer Don Widman stood in the front row of a July 21 rally supporting immigrants.

Aim of the protest and fast by religious groups in Portland's park blocks was to establish solidarity with immigrants who feel besieged by a new Arizona law. The legislation makes it a misdemeanor to be caught without immigration documents and requires Arizona police to inquire about immigration status during traffic stops and other detentions.

"This is a threat to all of us," said Widman. "It opens the door to all kinds of abuse of people's civil rights."

Widman affirmed the contention of the 100 rally-goers that Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 passed because people are misinformed about immigrants and fear foreigners unnecessarily.   

"The overwhelming majority of people who cross the border do so for very legitimate reasons," he said.

The Obama administration is trying to thwart the Arizona law, saying it is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Oregon religious leaders want to make sure that Arizona-style immigration laws have no place in their state.

Holy Spirit Father Pedro Arteaga, pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro and vicar of the Tualatin Valley Vicariate, told the group that singling out undocumented immigrants "cannot bring lasting peace." The notion of private property must be in balance with the common good, the priest explained.

Father Arteaga applied scripture and Catholic social teaching to immigration, quoting Leviticus 19:33 — "You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once alien in the land of Egypt."

Nations do have a right to secure their borders from peril, Father Arteaga said. He then cited Pope Pius XII, who after World War II wrote: "People have a human and God-given right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families." He added that churches should do all they can to improve conditions in poorer nations so that people don't need to migrate.

"We oppose any legislation that resembles the bill in this state," said Ron Whitlatch, a Methodist missionary who works with Latinos in the Northwest. He also voiced church leaders' common desire for comprehensive immigration reform.

Women Religious were part of the crowd that marched to the federal building where Portland's immigration office is located. A mosque leader offered the opening prayer, Christian pastors described church teaching and a Jewish cantor sang a song about justice.

David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, says there is no sign that the Oregon Legislature will follow suit on Arizona's immigration law. But, Leslie says, SB 1070, could act as a "catalyst" for city and county officials that feel pressure to crack down on immigration.

"It will create a climate of fear and intolerance," Leslie says.

One town in Nebraska has already taken action, imposing hefty requirements on local employers and landlords when it comes to verifying immigration status of workers and housing applicants.

Leslie encouraged churches in Oregon to hold prayer and education on the issue. He also asked people of faith to notify their congressional representatives asking for a bipartisan summit to create comprehensive reform.

"Are we not people of faith who have the right and responsibility to dream big dreams?" Lesklie asked the crowd.

Theme of the rally came from the 58th chapter of the book of Isaiah: "Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?"

The U.S. Catholic bishops, and other faith leaders have said reform should included a way to keep families together when some members have legal status and others do not.

"Dividing families is not a family value," said Greg Nelson of the Oregon-Idaho United Methodist Conference.