2010 News


Congress to consider bill to help graduates


Sept. 20, 2010, 7:48PM

Congress is now considering the very important Dream Act, which would enable undocumented young people to obtain permanent residency with a pathway to citizenship. To be eligible for residency under the act, individuals must have entered the United States before turning 16 years of age and must have been in the United States for at least five years without interruption. They must be continually enrolled in an institution of higher learning and finish a degree within a certain time frame. The individual must also demonstrate the ability to speak English. There are numerous other requirements that must be met, so it's no free ride.

The Dream Act makes humanitarian and economic sense.

Under present law an undocumented young person may graduate with honors from high school, go to a first-rate college, graduate and even do post-graduate work, but be unable to get a job or join the military because he or she has no documentation.

The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) urges Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and the Harris County congressional delegation to support this very important bill.

In a time when we need educated young people to fill the highly technical new jobs being created and the jobs that are being vacated by older workers, excluding qualified but undocumented young people from the work force seems a waste of resources. The bill would also allow these young persons to serve in the military.

We personally know of young college graduates who have finished school and stayed out of trouble who have been denied the opportunity to use their education in the U.S. or to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Their only alternative is to go back to their country of origin and apply for re-entry and then wait for up to 10 years for readmission.

For the past few years, many members of our organization have mentored at local schools where the majority of the students are Hispanic. Near the end of the school year we have a dinner and the mentors each bring a college T-shirt to give to the kids. The University of Texas and Texas A&M are the most popular, with a smattering of Notre Dame and University of Houston fans thrown in.

At a certain point in the evening, each student in turn goes up and selects a shirt and when everyone has made a selection, a group picture is taken. Everyone is so excited and the message that we're trying to impart to these kids through our mentoring is that they can, with hard work and a good education, achieve the American Dream. But the happiness instilled by their beaming faces is tinged with sadness. At least half of these youngsters were not born in the U.S. and are undocumented.

As we watched our mentees at the last end-of-year event, with their eyes full of hope, we wondered if they would fulfill their own dreams - to obtain a good education, be productive members of society and become proud American citizens, where even the most disadvantaged can fulfill their dreams.

We would hate for them to wake up one morning and realize that all of our statements of encouragement and support were just empty words and that the American Dream was not available to them, no matter how hard they had worked.

We urge Congress to pass the Dream Act as part of the Defense Authorization Bill.

Olson and Collins are members of the executive committee of The Metropolitan Organization







New York Times

By: James C. McKinley Jr.

Published: July 4, 2010


HOUSTON - The Rev. John W. Bowie knows it is hard to sell the people in his neighborhood on the idea that they should support changing immigration laws to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. His church lies in one of the oldest black settlements in the city, where unemployment is high and many people see immigrants as competitors for jobs.


Yet there he was in the pulpit at True Light Missionary Baptist Church on the Fourth of July, with a full choir behind him, urging his flock to support an overhaul of immigration laws that "lets the undocumented come out of the shadows."

"All 13 colonies were made up of illegal aliens because they had not gotten permission from the residents here, who were the Indians," he said. "Then a few years later, they brought us here and made us illegal, too. These immigrants, we immigrants, have built the greatest nation in the world, coming from everywhere, all over, because, you see, nobody owns this world except God."

All over Houston, in an unusual display of ecumenical solidarity on an explosive issue, scores of pastors, priests, rabbis and ministers used their sermons on Independence Day to promote the cause of fixing a broken immigration system.

The coordinated effort was part of a broad-based campaign begun in January by an interfaith group, the Metropolitan Organization, to lobby Congress to pass an immigration overhaul package this year. The group has collected 12,000 signatures to be sent to lawmakers and has organized workshops to persuade churchgoers to support their effort.

On June 22, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, made a strong appeal in a letter to the priests in all 150 parishes to address the question in their sermons this weekend. Later, the leaders of the Methodist, Episcopal and Lutheran Churches made similar requests of their ministers. Some Jewish leaders have also joined the campaign.

Many clergy members say they face an uphill battle with their congregations, some of which tend to be conservative on social issues and regard immigrants without visas as lawbreakers. Their effort has also drawn fire from right-wing talk radio hosts.

"It's not like preaching to the choir, so to speak," said the Rev. James Bankston, the senior minister at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Houston, a classical stone and stained-glass church with a vaulted roof and a full pipe organ.

Facing a packed church of mostly white faces, Mr. Bankston urged them to try to "find an immigration policy that will fix what is wrong."

"Knowing how to live with neighbors in our world is never easy," he said.

Outside after the service, few church members disagreed openly with their minister, though some said the issue was complicated for them. "Obviously, in a church this large, there are diverse feelings," said Dr. Thomas Leffler, an orthopedic surgeon. "I think there needs to be something changed. It's not working. The border is basically open."

His wife, Sandy, chimed in: "Our country has been bad, historically, in encouraging them to come in, for their labor."

The issue has divided some congregations, as immigrants have begun to worship side by side with members with deep roots in Texas. St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Sugar Land, a Houston suburb, has a large number of Mexican, Nigerian and Filipino parishioners, who now share the pews with white families who once dominated the area.

Like many involved in the campaign, Sam Dunning, a deacon, said his hope was "to remove the sharpness from the debate" and remind people of their religious obligation to welcome strangers.

"There is an argument today that those who immigrate or reside here illegally do not deserve to be here because 'they are breaking the law,' " Mr. Dunning said from the altar on Sunday as he looked out at more than 100 people. "While we, too, wish to live in a society ordered by law, it is an unfortunate reality that current immigration policy encourages its very violation."

How successful the campaign in Houston will be is uncertain. In recent decades, it has become an increasingly diverse city, with whites now barely making up half the population and one in four people foreign born. Yet on the western end and in the suburbs, some of the most conservative and white Congressional districts in the country, politicians win votes with vocal opposition to efforts to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants.

In black communities, there is similar skepticism. Some members at True Light said improving schools and cracking down on crime were much higher priorities than overhauling immigration. Others said the foreign workers were driving down wages and taking jobs working-class citizens needed. "I feel like they are just taking away from us Americans," said Sherrel Justrice, 49, who attended Sunday's service.

Mr. Bowie said it would take months to begin to build grass-roots support for an immigration overhaul. A single sermon would not counter what he sees as anti-immigrant rhetoric on the right, he said.

"They are told, 'They are taking your jobs, they are clogging up your emergency rooms,' " he said. "The perception is that this is a Latino problem, not a black problem."

Daniel Cadis contributed reporting from Sugar Land, Tex.



Preachers use topic of American heritage in sermons on immigration



July 5, 2010, 9:55AM

Pastor Robert McGee knew he had a special opportunity Sunday - the Fourth of July rarely falls on the week's holiest day.

The leader of Trinity United Methodist Church, located in Houston's Third Ward, said he took extra care preparing his sermon.

After immersing himself in the Word and plenty of prayer, he crafted a message integrating biblical teachings with a variety of issues facing America today: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Gulf oil spill, the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan and, most notably, immigration.

"We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters because all of us here are immigrants," he preached, quoting portions of the Declaration of Independence. "All of us are in pursuit of the impossible dream."

TMO effort to change laws

Across Houston, dozens of preachers like McGee used the holiday, not just to remind their congregations about America's struggle for independence and birth but to push for immigration reform. Part of a coordinated effort by The Metropolitan Organization, a local group that is organizing churches to pressure government to change immigration laws, more than 50 churches took part Sunday.

That included sermons at Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches and spanned congregations from primarily Hispanic to African-American and Anglo.

It was a way, pastors said, to show that immigrants are a part of the American Dream and also give new meaning to a holiday that sometimes seems more about fun and fireworks than contemplating what makes us Americans.

Though it was clear TMO and participating pastors were pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, most of the ministers were careful to avoid explicitly discussing the topic of illegal immigration, opting for a softer approach and talking about the immigration experience and its role in shaping America.

At the True Light Missionary Baptist Church in the 7100 block of North Main, the Rev. John William Bowie gave a sermon entitled "A Declaration of Our Independence." He told congregants not to fear immigrant job seekers and said all are dependent on God in the end.

At the True Light Missionary Baptist Church in the 7100 block of North Main, the Rev. John William Bowie gave a sermon entitled "A Declaration of Our Independence." He told congregants not to fear immigrant job seekers and said all are dependent on God in the end.

At St. Paul's United Methodist Church at 5501 Main, the Rev. James Bankston preached that all immigrants deserve to be treated with dignity.

Rights and responsibilities

And at the Iglesia Episcopal Santa Maria Virgen in southwest Houston, Father Uriel Osnaya told his primarily immigrant audience that, along with rights, everyone has key responsibilities.

They include being good citizens, volunteering and staying involved in children's lives at school, he said.

"Let's celebrate this Independence Day for the opportunity we have to live in this country," said Osnaya, speaking in Spanish. "Our culture is a culture of immigrants, and this we have to remember today."

Afterward, the congregation sang America the Beautiful.

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June 7, 2010, 6:18AM


Local religious leaders urged their followers on Sunday to keep up hope for a comprehensive immigration reform bill, despite signs that Congress likely won't act on major immigration legislation this year.

"We have a Congress that is very timid," the Rev. Kevin Collins, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, told the 1,500 who attended an interfaith service. "Reform will not come quickly. We have our work cut out for us, brothers and sisters. We have to keep working at it."

Collins also warned the faithful at the Catholic Charismatic Center outside downtown Houston to watch state lawmakers to ensure Texas does not pass a law similar to Arizona's, which made it a state crime to lack legal immigration papers.

"We need to start organizing now to educate them and show them there are voters who don't want Arizona-type laws," Collins said.

In January, a coalition of interfaith leaders - including Houston Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo - launched a campaign in support of an immigration reform bill that would include a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. The campaign, organized by Houston's non-partisan The Metropolitan Organization, has collected more than 10,000 postcards directed to Texas politicians and has helped educate religious leaders on the need for reform, organizers said.

Organizers now plan to have priests, pastors, reverends and rabbis all preach to their faithful on July 4 in support of immigration reform.

But the prospects for a major immigration bill passing the Senate this year appear to be slim, immigration experts and pundits said, citing the bitter battle over health care reform, the fallout from passage of Arizona's controversial law, and the upcoming Congressional elections.

"People are afraid," said the Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, during the service. "They are afraid of the changing demographics, of economic anxiety, of border violence. The system is broken."

He said the fears are similar to those faced by earlier waves of immigrants.

"God has never asked his people to act out of fear," he said. "God has always asked us to act on behalf of the newcomer, the stranger."

Maria Del Carmen Yupe, a 55-year-old from Guatemala who has lived in the U.S. without papers for 16 years, said she believes the time has come for reform.

"We have waited long enough for the opportunity to come out of the shadows and walk into the light," she said.

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Engineers go where politicos fear on flooding


May 30, 2010, 6:42PM


The political mail piece came in Thursday's post. The robocall telling my wife and me to expect it didn't come until that night.

Who says the U.S. Postal Service is inefficient?

Even more stunning is that the impressively designed mail piece asked us to sign a petition to raise our taxes.

Obviously it didn't come from a politician. It came from a group of engineers who have formed a group called Renew Houston.

The engineers want us to sign a petition to put on the November ballot a city charter amendment that would create a fund dedicated solely to drainage projects and street repairs.

Don't be cynical.

Sure, engineers stand to make money off of the proposed billions of dollars worth of drainage projects and street work over the next 30 years.

And my dentist stands to make money if I take his advice and see him twice a year.

But it's good advice.

Houston is built in a bowl. There are neighborhoods that flood during higher-than-normal humidity. Large swaths of the city go underwater during any substantial rain.

So even if the engineers will make money, it's good advice for us to do flood control.

I'll say this for the engineers: They put out a handy mailing.

It included a tear-off petition form that already had our names, dates of birth, address and voter registration numbers pre-printed.

All that was needed was our signatures and the date. No postage necessary.

"We were trying to make it easy for you, knowing how busy you are," said Kathryn McNiel, a political consultant who is helping run the campaign.

Nifty timing?

She also wanted me to know it isn't a tax they're proposing. It's a fee, based on the size of your lot. Maybe she's right.

If people in Sunnyside who own a lot worth $10,000 pay the same as people in River Oaks who own a lot the same size that's worth $1.5 million, then maybe we shouldn't call it a tax. Maybe they'll fix that.

But I digress. I was expressing my admiration for the engineers who would ask us to raise our taxes to lower our waters. I asked McNiel if it was true that the engineers carefully timed the campaign so that the vote would take place after what scientists predict will be a very active storm season because of higher-than-normal Gulf water temperatures.

The more flooding between now and November, the better the chances voters will approve the plan.

I figured the backstage campaign motto would be, "Any storm in a port."

"I think there's an urgency because there's such a big problem," McNiel said earnestly. "Some would argue we needed to have this conversation 10 years ago."

White backers favorable

But she also said the group had a concern that two other charter amendments may be on the ballot - one revising Houston's term limits and the other outlawing red-light cameras - and if either passes another charter, change would be prohibited for two years.

They also did a poll that showed that people who like former Mayor Bill White, who happens to be on the ballot in November's governor's race, were favorable toward this sort of a plan.

"They trust government more and they appreciate that this is a dedicated fund, that they know where the money will go," she said.

I didn't conduct a poll, but I did check with leaders at TMO, a church-based community organization that has been working on flooding issues for three decades.

"I don't think we're taking a position yet," said Roy Yeager, a member of Memorial Methodist Church and co-chair of the organization. "We're disappointed there wasn't more input from the public stakeholders. We didn't become aware of the wording (of the ballot measure) until it was a fait accompli."

Happy for movement

Father Kevin Collins, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, agreed.

"We're glad there's some movement on dealing with the drainage problem," he said. "We wish they would be more clear about exactly how the city will use this power once they get it. We believe in investing in infrastructure, but not in a regressive manner with the poor paying more."

"The devil," said the priest, "is in the details."

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kuhfhouston public radio news Houston, Texas


May 6, 2010
by: Melissa Galvez

While people across the country debate Arizona's recent immigration law, a coalition of local religious groups has been quietly talking about the issue since early January. Prospects for federal immigration reform are uncertain, but they intend to keep pushing-even if means working until next year or beyond. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez has more.

Early on Saturday morning, about 30 people gather in a classroom at Christ Church Presbyterian in Bellaire. Before the session begins, Rev. Mark Cooper leads the group in prayer.

"We thank you, oh God, for how you have continued to look, not to the rich and the powerful but to those at the bottom, those who are wandering."

The workshop is one of a series being run at over 30 religious congregations across the Houston area. It's part of a campaign spearheaded by The Metropolitan Organization, a consortium of churches and synagogues that work together on social issues. Today, the group will hear from Rabbi Mark Miller of Congregation Beth Israel, on the Bible and migration.

"There's a major theme of wandering to be found in the Bible, all the way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, which starts a life of wandering, Abraham leaves his home on a journey, the Exodus. Over and over this theme of leaving home and going somewhere else."

"So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to till the soil from which he was taken."
Both clergy understand that using the Bible to talk about policy can be controversial. But Rev. Cooper says that the Bible is a good starting place for talking about the moral and human effects of immigration. Rabbi Miller says that religion gives people a way to think about the issue, without demanding they vote one way or another.

"Religion doesn't have the answer on these issues, religion gives us a background and a way to think about it."

"More than 36 times in the Torah, we are commanded to include, protect, support, and even love the stranger in our midst."

Following the lead of many national religious bodies, the local heads of several denominations, Christian and Jewish, have signed the Houston Interfaith Statement on Immigration Reform, which calls for creating a legalization process for undocumented immigrants, among other principles. The TMO congregations have held workshops, collected signatures, and met with legislators. Christ Church congregant Amy Gremillion came to the workshop because she supports this effort.

"We have to start demanding immigration reform, because our leadership is not going to take it on themselves. And I think that's kind of what we're trying to do here, in build grassroots support."

But not everyone does agree with that reading of the Bible.

"The way I look at it is, those comments apply to people who are sojourning throughout society who belong there."

John Varvaro is a parishioner at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in the Meyerland area. He's one of the few in his congregation who is openly questioning the Church's teaching on immigration.

"You can look at other verses in the Bible that will, in my mind, shed light on the reality of what's going on. You don't just have people just do whatever they want, and disregard the people's laws where they're at."

Deacon Ed Stoessel of St. Thomas More believes that congregants like Varvaro should be allowed to express their views. But he cautions that they should deeply evaluate their position.

"If you disagree with the Church on an issue like this, then you really need to spend some time trying to understand that."

Regardless of what happens with federal legislation this year, the TMO congregations intend to keep educating voters and encouraging them to call their congressmen on the issue. They see this as a long term battle over values and morals, as well as facts and figures.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez.







March 14, 2010, 6:24PM


When U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his aides walked into Cardinal Daniel DiNardo's conference room at the Catholic Chancery one afternoon three weeks ago to talk about immigration reform, they were greeted by the archbishop, Lutheran Bishop Michael Rinehart and a dozen rabbis and clergy members from a variety of denominations.

They were also greeted by about 6,000 postcards piled in stacks on the large conference table around which the group would sit.

The men of the cloth wanted to talk to him about what they see as the biblical and moral imperative of immigration reform. But they also wanted to send a practical political message.

At a time when anger is the currency of the political realm, much of it aimed at illegal immigrants, the religious leaders were saying to Cornyn that they will have his back if he risks becoming a target of that anger by helping craft and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The meeting and the postcards are part of a number of organized movements bubbling up around the country, a stirring that led President Barack Obama this week to hold meetings with two senators, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and some immigration activist groups to reassert his commitment to reform.

The church- and synagogue-based community organization TMO has been working with churches in the area for more than a year to educate members on the painful realities of immigration. Presentations include experts like veteran immigration attorney Charles Foster, who was working with President George W. Bush on an immigration reform law when 9/11 doomed it.

Foster is fond of explaining to people that to tell illegal immigrants to go home and get in line doesn't deal with the fact that about 10 million of them would be getting into a line that moves at a pace of 5,000 a year, many leaving citizen spouses and children here as they did so.

Cornyn told DiNardo and the other religious leaders, as he has repeatedly said in public, that it is up to Obama to make immigration reform a priority. He also noted that he had expected to hear from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has been working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on crafting a bill.

At that point members of the group, who were impressed with Cornyn's grasp of immigration issues, decided to challenge him. Why should a senator from Texas be waiting on New York and South Carolina to craft a bill?

"We appealed to his Texas pride," said Rinehart.

After all, Texas has the longest border with Mexico and a great deal of experience and accumulated wisdom from dealing with immigrants from the south.

What's more, Cornyn is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee.

Could he initiate a meeting with Schumer and Graham?

It wasn't much to ask, and Cornyn met with Schumer about a week later. He wanted to see the draft language Schumer and Graham had worked up.

According to a Cornyn staffer, he learned that there is no draft yet.

But Cornyn had already warned the group that a bill would not be passed this year.

That was set when Graham announced after meeting with Obama that efforts on immigration were dead if the president insisted on passing health care reform by a simple majority in the Senate.

But several of the religious leaders who met with Cornyn said they were glad to see the conversation begin in Washington again. And they plan to keep it going in their churches, building an ever larger constituency for reform.

"It's a Bible witness," said Rinehart. "You shall love the stranger and treat him like a citizen."

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Houston Chronicle/Viewpoints, Outlook

Jan. 30, 2010, 4:18PM


On Jan. 11, more than 300 clergy from dozens of religious denominations came from the far reaches of the Houston region in support of a critical moral issue, humane immigration reform.

The local heads of several major religious denominations, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Catholic archbishop of Galveston-Houston; Bishop

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