Social-Justice Program Looks At Immigration Issue

Social-justice program looks at immigration issue

By Jennifer Burke
The Catholic Courier (Rochester, NY), October 1, 2009

Immigration is a hot topic in Wayne County, where hundreds of farmworkers migrate to the area each year for the autumn harvest. As such, the county has been the site of recent clashes between the U.S. Border Patrol and the farmworkers and their advocates.

This made Wayne County an ideal place to offer Crossing Borders: Migration, Theology and the Human Journey, which is an immigration-themed module of the JustFaith social-justice program, said Ruth Putnam Marchetti, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities in Wayne and the Finger Lakes counties.

The Crossing Borders module also is timely because the Diocesan Public Policy Committee recently identified immigration and justice for farmworkers as its advocacy issue for the upcoming year, meaning it will be the subject of a diocesanwide petition on Public Policy Weekend in February 2010. The committee sent a packet of educational materials about the immigration issue to diocesan parishes in late August, Putnam Marchetti said.

'That gives parishes a free resource for starting conversations,' she said. 'The JustFaith module provides much greater depth.'

The 15 Crossing Borders participants in Wayne County will meet once a week for eight weeks to learn about and discuss various elements of the immigration debate, said Putnam Marchetti, who is facilitating the group with Deacon Jim Nail, pastoral minister at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Ontario, Sodus and Sodus Point. Participants also will read three books and one booklet on the issue, and view five related videos.

'We're mostly coming from different levels of education on the issue,' Putnam Marchetti said.

Education is not the only focus of Crossing Borders. The program also is designed to encourage civil dialogue and discussion about the issue, and to build bridges between neighbors

'My goal is simply to bring people together,' Putnam Marchetti said. 'All JustFaith programs are based on building community, making sure there's time for discussion and getting to know each other.'

Most of the Crossing Borders participants are Catholics from the various parishes in Wayne County, but they are coming at the immigration issue from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds, she said.

'We have people who have ministered to the farmworkers, we have a farmer and we have some JustFaith graduates,' she said.

Each person brings something unique and valuable to the group, she said. The farmer, for example, brings firsthand knowledge of how things work for farmers and farmworkers. Another participant, Dr. John 'Lory' Ghertner of Sodus, has been an advocate for farmworkers for many years and brings a detailed knowledge of the problems farmworkers face.

Despite their different backgrounds, Crossing Borders participants are connected by their shared concern for immigrants as human beings, Putnam Marchetti remarked. Because of that, the participants seem very willing to discuss the issue at hand and engage in civil and respectful dialogue.

'Overall the group is very much in support of a solution, a humane solution, to the immigration problem, and has great concern for the problems of the farmers and the farmworkers in Wayne County. We're not going to have issues of people speaking to each other inappropriately or harshly,' she said.

After the initial meeting, which was held Sept. 21, Putnam Marchetti said Crossing Borders participants seem eager to delve in to learn more about immigration and broaden their understandings of the issue's complexity.

'The one thing that kept coming up was that it's very complex. There aren't any simple solutions, and it's not just one solution that's going to solve the whole (immigration) problem,' she said.

Ghertner said he's optimistic about the dialogue Crossing Borders is sure to encourage, and he's glad to be a part of such a dynamic group of people with a broad range of experiences.

'All of them have a sensitivity toward the issue, which is a wonderful thing to see. I think it's going to be a very positive experience for the people involved,' he said.

Ghertner said he's already familiar with a lot of the course material, but discussing it with others and voicing his opinions out loud has been helpful.

Carol May, a member of St. Maximilian Kolbe, also said she's optimistic about the program and its potential influence. An orchard owner, May has gotten to know individual farmworkers and likened their situation to that of slaves before the Civil War.

'I think that this Crossing Borders course will help to enlighten the participants, perhaps inspire more action and eventually see just and humane immigration reform,' May said.