Friday, July 29, 2011

Hearings on anti-immigrant bills to be held in Harrisburg

From the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Committee:

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, Chair of the PA House State Government Committee and chief sponsor of the so-called "National Security Begins at Home" package of anti-immigrant bills, will be holding hearings on this legislation. We need to have a strong presence at these hearings in order to show widespread grassroots support for a more welcoming Pennsylvania and overwhelming opposition to the bills in question. Although he is holding two hearings, we are hoping to have an especially strong showing on August 30 at 1 p.m.

When: Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, 1 pm (and Aug. 31, 9:30 am)

Where: State Capitol, Room 104, Harrisburg

More info:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A friendship in e-mail: How Msgr. Francis Meehan kept me sane, Catholic and writing

When I first started at the Catholic Standard & Times newspaper I spent a lot of time wondering whether God was playing a joke on me or on the paper. I had been away from the faith a long time, and not more than four years after my first step of return -- here I was, working at the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s official newspaper. (In case you haven’t guessed it already, I was hired for my newspaper skills not my evangelical zeal or my profound grasp of theology.)

But in one of those twists that are never coincidence but providence, while I was still finding my footing, I struck up an unlikely friendship with one of the newspaper’s columnists -- Msgr. Francis Meehan, who died July 22. A moral theologian and beloved Seminary faculty member, I knew him only as a columnist I edited with a light touch because his pieces were always impeccable.

It might have remained a cordial but impersonal association if he hadn’t written a column about torture. It was at the beginning of the national debate about interrogation techniques but well before waterboarding became a familiar term. Msgr. Meehan’s column for the CS&T swept right past the parsing of words and straight into the moral heart of the issue. Now, having grown up in Guatemala during that nation’s undeclared civil war, torture has long been one of my bailiwicks.

I was so moved and impressed by the piece that I wrote him an e-mail telling him so. I never expected get more than a gracious acknowledgement. What I got, instead, was the first of many humble, encouraging and engaging emails I came to look forward to receiving for the next seven years.

Almost every post I wrote for my blog brought me a Msgr. Meehan e-mail.

After my 2009 memorial day post titled Band of Fathers: “Thanks, Sabrina -- it was a perfect reading for today. I had the thought myself -- that even though I basically am a peacenik -- though not as pure as Dorothy Day -- still I must recognize how the tremendous hardship and sacrifice of soldier -- even now of those around the world -- even in unjust wars -- still individually participate in the sufferings of Christ for the world and invite us all into that spirit of generosity -- even in those times when generosity seems to be forced upon us through sickness and any suffering.”

After another 2009 post, this one about immigration (another bailiwick of mine): “I enjoyed every bit of it -- the process and the substance. Two instances […] a daily communicant and friend approaches me: presumes that I would be on his side -- so anti-immigrant. I finally, in a hurry, have to just put my hand on his shoulder, and tell him we were on very different pages. I think he was truly surprised. It was a lesson for me. [...] I always kid Msgr Joe Shields […] He sends out note, sometime about 2006: ‘would love to be invited to parishes to speak about the Latino people.’ I, being an old friend and in empathy, say -- ‘Come, Joe!’ Joe speaks -- I thought, moderately and persuasively. Then, because people felt good toward me said nothing. I only find out for the next two years what rumblings and grumblings were in the air. Oh, my -- we have such work to do.”

First in 2009 and later in 2010 he floored me with some of his emails about my blog posts: “I preached along the lines of your Pentecost reflection. I should have read your words first” was one; “I so much was helped by this reflection on your own asking” another.

What? I remember thinking, completely abashed. How could someone so spiritually profound get anything from my heartfelt but basic reflections? And the truth is there was nothing extraordinary in my blog posts -- the extraordinary resided in the genuinely humble and unbelievably generous priest who was reading them.

I’ve buried the lede by waiting until now to tell you I never met Msgr. Meehan in person. It was a friendship built entirely on epistolary exchanges -- and virtual ones at that since it all took place via e-mail. We talked about meeting in real life -- the last time agreeing to get together for coffee and conversation about how to collect his columns and see them published in book form.

When I heard he had died, I went back through our emails.

“I really hope and pray that one day I get to meet you in person,” I wrote to him in November of 2009.

“I know we will meet someday!” he answered.

But I was always busy and he was struggling with illness and a slow, long decline in mobility that sent him first to a walker, and later further curtailed motion.

Such sadness to know I will now never get to meet this great priest, this valued friend. And yet, as ever during these years of our improbable friendship, Msgr. Meehan is still guiding and teaching me.

I run across an e-mail he sent me in 2009, days after his brother had died after a long illness” “We, as a family, are at peace. We had a long vigil. The vigil and his dying turn out to be -- as I sense it -- a blessing from the Lord,” and in reading it anew, I come to understand that the words are true of Monsignor’s death as well.

And then there is this response when, not knowing just how impaired his mobility was, I enjoined him to go with a bunch of us to Washington D.C. to march and advocate for justice for immigrants: “I wish I could walk with you. I promise a prayer as a spiritual step or two.”

The thing is, through his e-mails, he did walk with me. He took more than a spiritual step or two with me on my path. Others knew him longer and better, but I knew the priest who took seriously the edict to make welcome the stranger and through his kindness and generosity of spirit turned this stranger into a friend.

Once, after I wrote a piece about life in Guatemala, he wrote to me asking, “Does anyone reading the S & T have an idea of such a background?” So, I’m compelled to draw from my background in closing this reflection on the death of a friend. In Guatemala, it is customary at gatherings to toast those loved ones who have died by calling out their name followed by the word “presente” -- which means present. Still here. Remembered always.

Msgr. Francis Meehan ¡presente!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Calling it the 'harshest of the Arizona copycat' laws, coalition files motion to block Ala.'s HB 56

“HB 56 seeks to drive all immigrants out of Alabama. The courts need to send a strong message that it is not permissible under the law.”
-- Sin Yen Ling, senior staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus

“This law is not only anti-immigrant, it is anti-American. It will criminalize Alabamians for everyday interactions with people who are here without documents, such as driving someone to the grocery store or to church, and law enforcement officers will be required to violate the constitutional rights of citizens and non-citizens alike.”
-- Olivia Turner, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama
“By creating this law, which impacts not just undocumented immigrants but citizens and legal immigrants who might look ‘foreign’ or speak with an accent, Alabama makes all communities less safe.”
-- Erin Oshiro, senior staff attorney at the Asian American Justice Center

“Alabama has declared war on immigrants, primarily Latino immigrants. Every Latino in Alabama, regardless of status, is at risk.”
-- Juan Cartagena of LatinoJustice PRLDEF

“Not only is Alabama’s law blatantly unconstitutional, it flies in the face of American values by authorizing racial profiling, deterring children from going to school, and criminalizing those who lend a hand to individuals deemed by the state of Alabama to be ‘illegal.’”
-- Andre Segura, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project

MONTGOMERY, ALA. ― The National Immigration Law Center and a coalition of other civil rights groups filed a motion July 21 asking a federal judge to block Alabama’s anti-immigrant law from taking effect Sept. 1.

The motion for preliminary injunction, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, follows a federal lawsuit the groups filed earlier this month that charged the law is unconstitutional on multiple grounds. Alabama’s law, which affects myriad aspects of daily life for countless Alabamians, is even more restrictive than Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, which has been blocked by the courts.

“This law flies in the face of the core rights and liberties our Constitution was designed to preserve,” said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center, “Alabamians, like all Americans, deserve better than to saddle local teachers, law enforcement officers, and business people with the additional responsibility of asking children, customers, and community members for their ‘papers.’ We are hopeful that the court will block this discriminatory and unconstitutional law before it takes effect and causes irreparable harms for countless Alabamians.”

The Alabama law was signed into law in June by Gov. Robert Bentley and is the harshest of the Arizona copycat state laws.

The lawsuit charges that HB 56:

  • Chills children’s access to public schools by requiring school officials to verify the immigration status of children and their parents.
  • Authorizes police to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops and criminalizes Alabamians for ordinary interactions with undocumented individuals.
  • Unconstitutionally interferes with federal authority over immigration matters ― a violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It also subjects Alabamians ― including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents ― to unlawful search and seizure, a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Alabama is one of six states that have enacted a law emulating Arizona’s controversial SB 1070. Federal courts have been unanimous in blocking similar provisions in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. The coalition has also vowed to challenge South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law.

“This law so undermines our core American values of fairness and equality that it is essential this be weighed before the law is allowed to go into effect,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). “When the Speaker of the House, who championed this law and guided it to passage, is acknowledging it has problems, it is clear we have a serious issue.”

The motion for and memorandum in support of preliminary injunction is available at

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

House Bill 934 heads to State Senate

This just in from the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition:

"After state House leaders used a procedural tactic to shut down debate, the House voted 108-88 in favor of House Bill 934, legislation that would force citizens to show valid state-issued photo ID every time they attempt to vote. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe has used the same rhetoric that characterizes his AZ copycat legislation to justify this bill, which would really impact the most vulnerable citizens of our Commonwealth. Pennsylvanians who don't hold a valid state-issued photo ID will be disenfranchised-- disproportionately senior citizens, people with disabilities, the poor, students & young adults, and mass transit users who don't need a drivers license."

The bill is expected to be considered by the State Senate this fall.