Faith and community leaders convened Thursday evening outside of Rep. Jim Costa’s office in Fresno, urging local congressional representatives to help protect migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“If you can send tear gas, you can send aid,” said Reza Nekumanesh, executive director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno.
Faith in the Valley-Fresno, in collaboration with PICO California, organized the rally, with similar events taking place across the state.
Leaders urged elected officials to send humanitarian aid, as well as to deny budget increases for agencies, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
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Julie Lopez, a faith leader with Sacred Heart church in Fresno, said the crowd got together “to demand an end to human suffering” at the border.
Faith in the Valley is about bringing together people across race, geography and religion to denounce injustice, Lopez added.
The group asked elected officials “to take more aggressive action to protect migrants.” Lopez said seeking asylum is a human right supported by international laws.
“Our faith calls us to build bridges and not walls,” she said. “We are a nation of immigrants who have contributed significantly to American society and economy through hard work.”
Thursday’s event is the latest in a series of gatherings held in the Valley in recent days to decry the treatment of the thousands of Central American migrants now stranded in Tijuana, Mexico.
Nekumanesh, who heads the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, said the group also was asking congressional representatives to push for the asylum process to be expedited and for judges to be deployed to the border to assist with those proceedings.
Lopez believes people often flee their countries due to situations caused by American foreign policy and capitalist trade polices that “impoverishes and destabilizes millions of people.”
Nekumanesh said there’s also a call for the U.S. to send assistance to Central American countries for job creation and violence prevention instead of boosting the budgets for U.S. immigration agencies.
Thomas Weiler, chapter director for Faith in the Valley-Fresno, said it’s important for all local congressional leaders to hear from people.
“Here in California, people are loud and clear that immigrants are part of our community,” he said. “We should do everything we can so they guarantee them due process, a fair shot at the legal system.
“It’s critical that all of them take a stand .... against policies that are trying to criminalize families fleeing violence.”
Sandra Garcia, a representative with Costa’s office, read a brief statement from the congressman during Thursday’s event.
“We are supportive and we will be continuing to fight to make sure there is no wall, and we are also making sure we are represented properly,” Costa said in his statement.
A statement from Congressman-elect TJ Cox was read aloud during the event.
“I decided to run for Congress because I could not stand by and watch the way this administration and congressional leaders treated our communities,” Cox said in the statement.
“I refused to stand by while families were torn apart and children were put in cages. In Congress, I will continue the fight that you all have labored on for so long.”