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Oregon Faith Groups "Welcome the Stranger"

December 10, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. - On International Human Rights Day, some in Oregon can see the possibility of immigration reform in Congress, including the faith community. At interfaith candlelight vigils this evening in Portland and across the country, religious leaders will make the point that it makes more sense to welcome people who are already here and contributing to the economy than it does to arrest them.

It's a controversial issue for some, admits John Munson, director of the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry.

"I think it's because we have a very, very divided population right now. I think because we operate with a lot of fear, and because there are people in the community who exploit that fear for their own purposes."

Munson says the immigrants he talks with want a fair system for becoming U.S. citizens and an end to the intimidating workplace raids and deportation threats they now face, although opponents of those ideas believe immigrants take jobs needed by current citizens.

Right now, says Munson, up to 70 percent of the 150,000 agricultural workers in the state are undocumented and therefore, can easily be taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who can short their pay, ignore safety considerations and more.

"It gives them an additional vulnerability. Anytime they try to exercise their rights, they're putting themselves out there in the public, and that means, potentially, they could be deported."

Not all employers treat undocumented workers poorly, he admits. Some in Oregon are advocates for immigration reform to keep their workforce intact and allow them to become taxpaying citizens. The Portland event begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Edith Green Federal Building, 1220 S.W. Third Ave.; a celebration follows at 5:30 p.m. at the First Christian Church, S.W. Columbia & Broadway.

Tonight's candlelight vigils are part of a week of activities focused on the religious and compassionate reasons for immigration reform.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR