RALEIGH, N.C. — In an effort to keep the issue of immigration in the public eye, community leaders in North Carolina joined others in more than 100 cities nationwide, including Raleigh, Monday in a prayer vigil for immigrant families and for immigration reform.
The event, part of a nationwide movement called Prayer, Renewal and Action on Immigration, was an attempt to bring humanity and compassion into the public dialogue.
"We need to work really hard this year," said Gail Phares, with Witness for Peace, a grassroots group focused on bringing change to U.S. policies that opponents say contribute to poverty in Latin America. "We need to stop the raids and deportations now. We need to work for change in the immigration law, now."
So far this year, the economy has overshadowed immigration in Congress.
"The economy is just such an overriding issue to everyone, and jobs are at a premium right now," U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., said.
The group Americans for Legal Immigration says anyone in the United States illegally should be deported.
"We should be praying for Americans who lost their jobs, work for depreciated wages, have their identity stolen and are victims of crime because of illegal aliens," the group says.
"If you look at Gaston County, 80 percent of the people deported in 2007 were deported for misdemeanors, like driving without a license," Irene Godinez, director of advocacy for El Pueblo, said, "not for committing those heinous crimes that people would like for you to believe."
Federal immigration officials are partnering with more than a dozen of North Carolina's law enforcement agencies to find illegal immigrants in jails and deport them.
More than 3,000 people were deported from North Carolina last year.