By Lucia Leal
WASHINGTON -- U.S. religious leaders and members of Congress on Wednesday announced a campaign supported by hundreds of religious organizations around the country to ask the new administration this year to get started on a "humane reform" of the country's immigration policy.
More than 500 national and regional organizations, local congregations and religious leaders, organized in the Interreligious Coalition for Immigration, expressed the need for the Barack Obama administration and Congress to make immigration reform a priority.
At a press conference the Coalition held in the Capitol building, where two Democratic lawmakers also participated, the leaders from different denominations said they had proof from within their communities of the social problems that the current immigration laws are causing.
Mike Honda, a congressman from California, urged Obama to fulfill his promise to make immigration reform a priority since - he said - the current system is "broken" and "doesn't work for anyone."
Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said that the current law works against "family values" and deprives of protection "the most vulnerable workers of all, the undocumented ones."
Bishop Minerva Carcaņo, of the United Methodist Church, told Efe what concrete recommendations the Coalition had sent to Congress for lawmakers' consideration when they commence working out a reform.
"In the first place, it's necessary to make the family unit a priority, and to favor the reunification of families. There are too many cases where parents, children and siblings are separated indefinitely by visa problems," she said.
She added that creating a process so that undocumented immigrants have the opportunity to gain legal residence and citizenship status is vital, as well as "protecting the workers and creating efficient channels of entry for new immigrants."
"Above all, we have to draft the reform keeping in mind at all times the respect for human and civil rights," Carcaņo told Efe, adding that it was a "mistake" to exclude immigrants from the debate on the new economic stimulus plan.
"They contribute with their taxes to the advance of the economy and we have to stop seeing them as a problem when they are part of the solution," she added.
In laying out its request to Congress, the Coalition received the advice of lawmakers, the national budget office, universities and the Pew Hispanic Center, Caracņo said.
The Coalition announced that it will try to get more communities from all religious denominations to join its campaign and that it will begin its activities to do so during the congressional recess this month, when it will coordinate more than 100 vigils on immigration all across the country. EFE