Interfaith rally points to spiritual side of immigration debate

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Religious leaders called for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to workplace raids, but it was the story of an LDS man whose Guatemalan wife may soon be deported that captured the hearts of the 1,000 at a pro-immigrant family rally Friday night.

The interfaith rally at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City was organized by the Unitarian Universalist Assembly of Congregations, which is holding its annual General Assembly, and whose members from across the country comprised most of the crowd.

The Catholic and Episcopal bishops of Utah spoke at the rally, as did an Episcopal priest who handles immigration issues.

"For us religious people, this is not merely a political or economic question," said the Rev. Bill Sinkford, president of the UUA. "For us it is profoundly a spiritual question."

Larry Love of Salt Lake City, who served a mission to Guatemala for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 25 years ago, told of indignities his wife has suffered at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who showed up at their door one morning in March.

The agents used a ruse of wanting his wife to identify a woman in a picture, but instead arrested her. Love said she was allowed to kiss her children -- she has three, all U.S. citizens -- and he gave her a priesthood blessing in the bathroom before she was handcuffed, shackled and taken away.

His wife, who did not attend the rally for fear of anti-immigration protesters and media attention, was at first told she would be deported the next day or in a week. Instead, she was given an ankle bracelet and was allowed to return home, though the couple has little hope she'll avoid deportation.

Love said his wife, then pregnant, entered the country illegally 16 years ago and her requests for political asylum because of experiences in Guatemala were rejected three times. He met her and her three children at a Spanish-speaking ward they all attend.

"She has a valid Social Security number and has worked here for 16 years," said Love, angry at ICE's treatment of his wife. "They will not give us a hearing."

Entering the country without documentation, he noted, is a civil, not a criminal offense.

"It's the equivalent of a speeding ticket. It's not like robbing a bank."

Love's point echoed one made by Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Wester, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, said workplace raids strike fear in immigrant families and tear them apart, which runs counter to government's role in protecting families as the foundation of society, Wester said.

ICE should instead focus on unscrupulous employers, he said.

Immigrants "should not be treated like criminals, because they are not criminals," he said.

The Right Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, decried Utah's new immigration law, Senate Bill 81 from the 2008 Legislature, which takes effect Wednesday.

The most disturbing aspect, she said, is that it deprives immigrants of due process. That principle, she said, "is what America stands for. It's what our Constitution stands for."

Rev. Pablo Ramos, canon for Latino ministry in the Utah Episcopal diocese, said U.S. citizens need to become better informed about immigration issues.

"We are pilgrims in this world. We are all children of the same God."