About 200 people gathered on the steps of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish Tuesday waving signs at passing cars and calling for widespread immigration reform, along with immediate relief for the tens of thousands of Central Americans who have crossed the border illegally in the past few months.
The immigrant influx has garnered national headlines, with the Obama administration threatening immediate deportations. “We will send you back,” said Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson during a visit to a detention center in Artesia that is housing hundreds of immigrants. The first planeload left New Mexico on Monday.
“What we have staring in front of us are thousands of kids,” said Monsignor Olona, an Albuquerque native who has worked with immigrants as a pastor for more than 30 years. “I am here tonight to address what we can do immediately, and that is to protect and welcome these children. That’s beyond politics, policy and religion.”
Olona said he thinks every family should have access to an attorney — something immigrant activists have said is impossible at remote sites such as the Artesia facility.
The issue sparked protests by anti-immigration activists along the United States’ southwestern border, especially in Texas and Arizona. Protesters there called for the immediate deportation of the children.
Justin Remer-Thamert, program director at the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said the Central American crisis is unique. The immigrants — fleeing widespread violence — should be treated as refugees, he said, because they’re not simply seeking economic opportunity.
“Immigrants in our community (Albuquerque) weren’t necessarily fleeing violence, but the way that we are addressing this, we’re acting as if it’s similar behavior,” Remer-Thamert said. “At the same time, we haven’t really addressed immigration reform as a broader topic.”