2006.04.05: April 5, 2006: Headlines: COS - Guatemala: Immigration: Insidebayarea.com: Rev. Max Lynn says he saw the conditions that drove many immigrants here firsthand when he worked a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala in the 1980's

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Hispanic Studies: January 23, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Hispanic Issues and Hispanic Studies : 2006.04.05: April 5, 2006: Headlines: COS - Guatemala: Immigration: Insidebayarea.com: Rev. Max Lynn says he saw the conditions that drove many immigrants here firsthand when he worked a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala in the 1980's

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Rev. Max Lynn says he saw the conditions that drove many immigrants here firsthand when he worked a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala in the 1980's

Rev. Max Lynn says he saw  the conditions that drove many immigrants here firsthand when he worked a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala in the 1980's

More than a dozen Bay Area religious leaders are speaking out against legislation that would turn illegal immigrants into felons. And some are saying that if such legislation becomes law, they will defy it. "We're not obligated to the law of the state, if it contradicts the law of God," said the Rev. Max Lynn, pastor of St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley. "I guarantee you it would not be followed by the church if that House bill passed. It would simply be ignored and outwardly opposed."

Rev. Max Lynn says he saw the conditions that drove many immigrants here firsthand when he worked a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala in the 1980's

Immigration reform effort rankles clergy

Bay Area religious leaders say they will defy 'xenophobic' legislation

By Michele R. Marcucci, STAFF WRITER

Caption: Demonstrators carry signs as they protest house bill HR4437 which calls for tougher border protection and immigration laws in San Francisco, California. The explosion of protests against tough US immigration reforms marks an unprecedented flexing of Hispanic political muscle that has left the Washington administration scrambling to react. Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

More than a dozen Bay Area religious leaders are speaking out against legislation that would turn illegal immigrants into felons. And some are saying that if such legislation becomes law, they will defy it.

Eighteen clergy and supporters from different faiths, including many from the East Bay, have signed a letter pledging support for citizenship for those who are here illegally.

"To hear some of the rhetoric that's going on right now, it sounds very xenophobic," said the Rev. Will McGarvey, pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church in Pittsburg and the main letter writer. "It sounds like one group of people trying to preserve privilege earlier immigrants against more recent groups. We're trying to get people to recognize that we are all immigrants." The House of Representatives passed a bill in December making illegal presence in the United States and helping illegal immigrants felonies. It is unclear whether the Senate, which is divided on the path it will take, is expected to pass its own immigration bill by Friday. The deadline was set by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Some who signed the letter, which was sent to area media, said they are obligated to follow the law of God over that of the state.

"We're not obligated to the law of the state, if it contradicts the law of God," said the Rev. Max Lynn, pastor of St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley. "I guarantee you it would not be followed by the church if that House bill passed. It would simply be ignored and outwardly opposed."

The Rev. Norman Fong of the San Francisco Presbytery's Justice Advocacy and Caring Committee was even more outspoken on the bill.

"It says you are a felon. Churches would be punished. That's crazy. I'll go to jail first," he said.

Religious leaders throughout the United States have added their voices to the immigration debate, most advocating legalization. Cardinal Roger Mahony has spoken against the House bill, and the California Catholic Conference followed suit, calling for earned legalization and restoration of due process rights for illegal immigrants and no sanctions for those who provide humanitarian aid.

Most letter signers contacted Tuesday said they have an obligation to God to care for people who are less fortunate, regardless of what the state says.

That obligation is particular to immigrants, most said, pointing to the Old Testament passage Exodus 22:21 "You shall not wrong an alien, neither shall you oppress him, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."

"The church will go along with culture and society a lot," Lynn said. "But the freedom to help people in need and provide basic shelter, employment and care is just simply an absolute must."

Several said they have seen the conditions that drove many immigrants here firsthand as part of their ministry. Lynn said he worked in the Peace Corps in Guatemala in the late 1980s, at the tail end of the worst of that country's war. Fong's father was imprisoned at Angel Island when he came here in 1919, he said.

This also is not the first time Bay Area clergy have spoken out for immigrants. In 1982, a group of Berkeley churches including Lynn's church was at the forefront of the sanctuary movement, providing shelter for Central American refugees caught in midst of wars there.

Many immigrated illegally to the United States, but most were sent back, some to their deaths, said Sister Maureen Duignan, executive director of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. Some who helped shelter immigrants in the United States were jailed, she said. But in the tradition of the Bible, some people who made it here told their stories, transforming church congregations' views.

The illegal immigrants now are here for economic rather than political reasons, Duignan said. But she sees parallels between the two. If the House bill or something similar becomes law, she says she believes religious leaders will replicate the sanctuary movement but on a much larger scale.

Joyce Ann Mercer, an associate professor at the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, said churches have done this work without pause, and the intense debate over immigration has only shined a spotlight on their work and views.

"The justice work of the church is not a new thing," Mercer said. "That's kind of the clarion call in this ministry."

Contact Michele R. Marcucci at mmarcucci@angnewspapers.com.





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Story Source: Insidebayarea.com

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guatemala; Immigration

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