During a telephone press conference Thursday, Evangelical, Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders from across the country said they condemn the controversial Arizona immigration law. Hundreds of actions nationwide are scheduled this weekend to renew the call from millions for comprehensive immigration reform including an "Immigrant Sabbath" and "Prayer for Immigrants," they said.
"The Arizona law and the outpouring condemnation from the faith community underscores the urgency of enacting humane, comprehensive immigration reform," said Jen Smyers with the Church World Service based in Washington D.C.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño with the United Methodist Church, Desert Southwest Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., said, "Last Friday was a day of deep sadness for the country," after Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law.
"It was an action of political expediency and a lack of political courage," said Carcaño.
"It was short-sided and mean-spirited," she said. "Contrary to Brewer's statements it's not what's best for Arizona and does absolutely nothing to contribute to passing reform."
Rather it's "anti-immigrant, anti-humanitarian and anti-civil rights," said Carcaño. And it encourages hate and racial profiling, she adds.
Carcaño said young people "fear that they will be stopped for being brown, that their immigrant parents will be deported, that their families will be separated and trampled by a rampant hatred that is out of control in Arizona."
"We cannot allow the further destruction of these youth and their families and we hope that justice will have the last word," she said.
Others on the call said immigrant's come to this country looking for a better future for their families. Any approach in dealing with immigration reform needs to begin with the core belief that every single person should be treated with worth and dignity, they note. The Arizona law is unjust and is a broader symptom of the broken immigration system, they said.
Religious leaders on the call said they couldn't afford to be AWOL on this issue and that they along with others must stand up and speak out for social justice. Immigration reform is the great civil rights issue of today, they charge.
The Arizona situation has served as a wake up call and the constant anti-immigrant rhetoric must be challenged, said Yvonne Diaz with the Goshen, Indiana-based Mennonite Church USA.
Many immigrants feel disconnected and too many Latinos know what it's like to be discriminated against, said Diaz. "Some are even afraid to come to church and pray."
Father William Hoppe with the St. Leo's Catholic Church in Queens, NY, said, "We support efforts to reunite families. We support immigrants who seek work and we support due process of the law. But we deplore ethnic profiling and demand that immigrants be treated with dignity and opportunity."
People should not panic and the Arizona law is in the process of being challenged, speakers said. Congregations will continue to be sanctuaries for immigrants and they need to be instructed about their basic rights, they add.
Although the immigration issue may appear to be a Latino one, speakers on the call say it affects everyone and no one is excluded from it.
Meanwhile those on the call say they are hopeful that Democratic national lawmakers will do the right thing and seek bipartisan support to push for reform. They are also encouraged that President Obama supports reform and that he has the best interests of immigrant's rights at heart. They are also hopeful that Obama will eventually take leadership on the complicated yet extremely important matter.
In the meantime voter-registration drives are underway and leaders on the call say voters are very cognizant of where certain elected officials stand on the issue.
"People are smart and recognize when politicians are playing politics," said Smyers. "They know whose trying to block the reform process."
Critics say the Arizona law demonstrates the immediate and severe consequences of failing to fix our broken immigration system. The legislative future of immigration reform seems uncertain, however thousands nationwide plan to march and hold vigils to call for their elected representatives to pass comprehensive federal reform.
Reform will not only keep families together and protect both our values and interests as a nation, but will also preclude the possibility of more states passing discriminatory immigration laws that create climates of suspicion and fear and do little to fix the underlying problems with our broken system, critics add.
Those on the call said they will continue to pray, protest and stand in solidarity with their immigrant brothers and sisters to push Congress to enact humane immigration reform before the August recess.
Photo: Alfonso Vasquez of Phoenix lights candles during a prayer vigil while protesting against Arizona's new anti-illegal immigration law at the Arizona State Capitol, April 24. Matt Pavelek/The Arizona Republic/AP