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Video: In North Georgia, People of Faith Walk & Pray for Immigrants

April 23, 2011

Third annual Holy Week Pilgrimage replaces fear with love, April 17-22

In the wake of controversial bills that polarize the issue of unauthorized immigration, pilgrims made a prayerful walk through North Georgia and metro Atlanta for the third consecutive year.

This public act of worship embodies the values of faith, solidarity and hospitality. It makes a transformative connection to the teachings of Jesus, who said that whenever we welcome the stranger we welcome Him. “Rather than fall into the trap of politicizing immigrants, we want this pilgrimage to remind us that everyone is a child of God,” said Jorge Sosa, parishioner at Saint John Neumann Catholic Church in Lilburn.

Anton Flores-Maisonet, co-founder of Alterna, an immigrant-serving ministry in LaGrange, said people of faith must call for the end of dehumanizing policies and rhetoric. “The scapegoating of hard-working, faithful immigrants who share America’s highest core values — like family, progress and a strong work ethic — is antithetical to our highest ideals in this land of the free and home of the brave,” he said.

Of acute concern to pilgrimage organizers is Georgia House Bill 87, an Arizona-style piece of anti-immigrant legislation which was passed by the Senate and the House on April 14 and now awaits Governor Nathan Deal’s signature. Among other things, this bill would require law enforcement officers to investigate detained individuals’ immigration status, including those detained in traffic stops and roadblocks. It could also criminalize people of conscience who “harbor” or “transport” unauthorized immigrants.

A pre-existing federal program called 287(g) is already present in Cobb, Gwinnett and Hall Counties, three of the places where the pilgrims will prayerfully traverse. The route is no coincidence, said Alan Shope, parishioner at Saint Michael’s Catholic Church in Gainesville. “We must continue the struggle and speak out with those whose voice is being marginalized and
muted,” Shope said. “This is why we feel it is important to begin the pilgrimage in Gainesville near the for-profit North Georgia Detention Center, a place that symbolizes the darkness and greed that so often blind otherwise decent people.”

According to human rights organizations such as the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, programs such as 287(g) have already increased racial profiling by law enforcement in Georgia. But pilgrimage organizers are alarmed because HB 87 goes a step further, criminalizing the transportation and harboring of unauthorized immigrants.

“If this bill becomes law, it will make it illegal for me as a Christian (or anyone else) to take an ‘undocumentable’ person to a hospital, school, grocery store or even to church,” said PJ Edwards, a parishioner at Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Smyrna. “It should not be necessary for Christians to choose whether to follow the laws of this state or the ‘law’ of the

A culture of fear is forming, said Nancy Sestak, chair of the social justice committee at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in DeKalb County. “This year we are seeing an increase in fear among our immigrant community – fear of incarceration and fear of separation from family,” Sestak said, “and so we pray with our feet walking side-by-side in affirmation of the human rights and inherent dignity every person.”

Georgia’s Catholic bishops, in a statement published in March, urged state lawmakers to “be part of the solution to (immigration) challenges, not create more division.” They also called on the legislature “to resist the imposition of harsh and unnecessary legislation affecting all residents of Georgia, further tearing apart the fabric of our communities and jeopardizing our future.”

Edwards calls legislators to consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Shope adds: “As we walk in prayer, we become one with Christ and His suffering family, presenting our bodies, as the Bible implores, as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual act of worship.”

To follow the 2011 Holy Week Pilgrimage for Immigrants (and see 2010 highlights), visit

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