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Religious Leaders Mobilize Against Arizona Immigration Law

Thousands of protesters rally against the new Arizona law targeting illegal immigrants, at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Sunday, April 25, 2010. Activists are hoping to block the law from taking effect by arguing that it encroaches on the federal government's authority to regulate immigration and violates people's constitutional rights by giving police too much power. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File

A number of religious leaders from across the country are mobilizing their congregates this weekend to protest Arizona's new controversial immigration law. Events in Arizona, California, New York, Kansas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere are expected to draw thousands to condemn the law and call for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.

The controversial law, signed by Arizona's governor on Friday, would require immigrants to carry documents verifying their immigration status. It would also require police officers to question a person about his or her immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that person may be illegally in the country.

The law represents "the institutionalization of racial profiling," said Jen Smyers, associate for immigration and refugee policy at Church World Service, a Christian cooperative ministry.

"The Arizona law and the outpouring of condemnation from the faith community underscores the urgency of enacting humane, comprehensive immigration reform," she said today in a conference call with reporters, organized by the left-leaning group Faith in Public Life.

Prayer vigils have been ongoing in front of the state capitol in Phoenix and will continue this weekend with a midnight mass on Saturday and a vigil expected to bring in more than 1,000 people on Sunday.

More than 10,000 United Methodist women will be gathering in St. Louis, Missouri, to call for comprehensive immigration reform, said Bishop Minerva Carcano, of the United Methodist Church's Desert Southwest Conference.

Carcano called the Arizona law "unwise, short sighted and mean spirited." She said religious leaders would meet next month with Arizona's Republican senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, as well as other political leaders "to ask them directly what will be their leadership on comprehensive immigration reform because we need their voice."

Both those opposed to and in favor of Arizona's new law agree that it is the result of inaction on the federal government's part. However, House Minority Leader John Boehner said today that there's "not a chance" immigration reform will pass in Congress this year. President Obama has also acknowledged there "may not be an appetite" in Congress to deal with the hot-button issue this year.

Nevertheless, a group of Democratic senators this afternoon are unveiling their preliminary ideas for immigration reform. They want to put an emphasis on bolstering border security as well as creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the country.

Smyers said the religious community is encouraged by the Democrats' efforts but would like to see more leadership from Mr. Obama on the issue.

Father William Hoppe of St. Leo's Catholic Church in Queens, New York said his parish has invited Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the Democrats heading up the push for immigration legislation, to its prayer breakfast this weekend. The parish will give the senator a collection of testimonies from more than 230 people asking for immigration reform.

"We're trying to give hope to our people," said Hoppe, whose church serves a large immigrant community.

While not organized by religious leaders, an immigration reform march through Dallas, Texas on Saturday, which is expected to include more than 50,000 people, begins at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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