MIAMI –– In the debate over immigration reform, one set of voices is noticeably missing – Cuban exiles – believes one advocate for reform.
Marleine Bastien, chair of the Florida Immigrant Coalition and founding director of the group, Haitian Women of Miami, was among participants at a May 21 meeting at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity at which Cuban exile religious leaders took a stand for comprehensive immigration reform.
They asked President Barack Obama and seven members of Congress of Cuban descent to pass an immigration reform law this year.
“The Cubans have the power, but everybody thinks they didn’t care,” said Bastien.
The group of representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches in South Florida, including Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, also asked the president to use his executive powers to suspend deportation policies that are tearing families apart.
The leaders made their appeal to Obama and members of congress in a letter they sent in March.
Fr. Jose Luis P. Menendez, pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Wynwood and coordinator of the governing board of the Cuban Exile Spiritual Leaders in the United States, said the effort is because “we are shepherds who care about our sheep.”
Archbishop Wenski pointed out the difference in U.S. policies toward Cubans, who under the Cuban Adjustment Act, may apply to become residents of the United States a year and a day after setting foot in the U.S. Cubans are the only immigrant group that receives such treatment.
Fr. Menendez observed that “this is an initiative of Cubans, not out of necessity. It’s pure solidarity.”
“We want them to know that Miami’s Cubans are their brothers – brothers of anyone who, for whatever reason, is undocumented,” said the Rev. Guillermo Revuelta, a Presbyterian and vice-coordinator of the spiritual leaders group.
The Rev. Martin Anorga, also Presbyterian, called it shameful that for purely partisan reasons, Congress has been unable to pass immigration reform. “They are there to serve the nation, not to serve their own personal interests,” he said.
Archbishop Wenski noted that, in the past decade, 6,000 people have died trying to cross the border between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States. The U.S. bishops have been calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform for more than 10 years.
In addition to the moral reasons for welcoming immigrants, Archbishop Wenski said the country needs their labor.
“Today, immigration is a reality across the country. The undocumented are (working) in all 50 states,” he said.
“In fairness we have to give them legal status,” he added, rather than repeat the mistakes of the Jim Crow era, with laws that resulted in the creation of an “underclass without rights,” and ended up hurting not only the African-American community but the entire nation.
The letter was signed by 35 Cuban American religious leaders from South Florida. So far, Father Menendez told The Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami Archdiocese: “Not even Cuban lawmakers have responded to the letter.”
“If Cubans, whose voices are so powerful, will join their voices with ours, we will be heard,” said Bastien, who attended the press conference along with representatives of other community groups that are advocating for an end to deportations and fairer immigration policies.
Rodriguez-Soto is editor of the Miami archdiocesan edition of The Florida Catholic.