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Columbus signature Academy — New Tech High School junior Jahir Sanchez would like to aim for a college scholarship or two next year.
But the Mexico native won’t be eligible — at least not without a substantial change in immigration laws. The Columbus teen is among the more than 11 million people in the United States without documentation.
And he is one thing more in a nation chock full of dramatic stories of turnarounds.
“I am a DREAMer,” he said, referring to the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which, if passed, would allow young people who were brought to the United States illegally before the age of 16 to stay in the country.
He spoke at a recent prayer vigil for immigration reform at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church. The ecumenical event attended by about 75 people was marked by comments from the Rev. Clem Davis, St. Bartholomew’s pastor; the Rev. Lanny Lawler, pastor at Columbus’ North Christian Church; and the Rev. Dennis McCarty, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus. The Rev. Wayne Hanrattie, a retired Presbyterian minister who most recently served at Columbus’ Faith Ministries, also shared thoughts afterward.
The gathering was intended to give area people of faith a place for unity while supporting some sort of direct path to citizenship for undocumented aliens. Many attendees also signed a petition asking Sixth District U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., to support immigration reform legislation favoring a path to citizenship for aliens within a reasonable amount of time. Signers also are asking to end what the petition labels “inhumane deportation practices.”
Messer’s previous statements about immigration reform have focused on what he sees as a first responsibility to better secure U.S. borders. He also has said the immigration system “is broken and badly in need of repair.” A Senate measure on the matter, Senate Bill 744, passed in June.
Local residents’ petition requests are in line with the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ comprehensive immigration goals. Lawler thanked Catholics for leading such a push nationally and locally. And he asked people to remember biblical examples of immigrants, from Moses to Abraham.
“We also can tell the story of one who immigrated from Bethlehem to Egypt at a very early age,” Lawler said, referring to the biblical Jesus of Nazareth, whom Scripture says was rushed by his parents to Egypt for safety and protection during a slaughter of babies in Israel. “It is out of that very experience comes the foundational concept of hospitality.
“And now it is time for us to join our hearts and hands in prayer and our feet on the same path for others.”
McCarty mentioned that he is a descendant of Dutch immigrants who had few obstacles to citizenship.
“It’s time for a more rational immigration law,” McCarty said. “This is a matter of our human oneness. And we must do what we need to do.”
Then he led attendees in a Unitarian song, “We’ll Build a Land,” about a place of justice and freedom for all.
Columbus’ Ann Herron, a Unitarian member, read a reflection from Ani Choekyi, a Tibetan Buddhist nun deported to Israel. Her writings Herron shared emphasized that all people are what she termed “mutually dependent.”
Hanrattie mentioned after the gathering that all U.S. residents, whether people of faith or not, should be able to connect in some way to undocumented immigrants.
“None of us ultimately were natives (of America),” Hanrattie said.
He mentioned that his Irish grandfather’s name actually was O’Hannratty. But the clergyman’s relatives figure that grandpa, with no documentation, probably came through New York’s Ellis Island, where his name was changed by immigration officials.
St. Bartholomew’s Davis, leader of a church with a large Hispanic ministry, led a prayer linking a tenderness toward people with a tenderness toward God.
“May we be able to expand our understanding and our comprehension of the absolute necessity of experiencing the rich diversity of people,” he prayed, “if we are to come to any better understanding of you.”
Columbus’ Pat Conard, a St. Bartholomew member who has publicly pushed for repeal of the death penalty and other social-justice issues, reminded the prayer vigil crowd that they can make a difference.
“Become little missionaries about this,” she said.
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