RANCHO CUCAMONGA - The Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino is defending its decision to hold an event in the city that rallied support around legislation that would aid undocumented young people.

The gathering at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church aimed to raise awareness and promote advocacy for the DREAM Act, said John Andrews, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino.

The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act would help young illegal immigrants who are illegally in the United States enlist in the military, attend college or acquire citizenship. The youth would have to meet certain requirements, such as being high school graduates and of good moral character.

But members of a Claremont-based grassroots group said the Catholic Diocese has violated the separation of church and state principle. Separation of church and state is derived from documents put together by the country's founders.

"They are no longer advocating people to vote, they are going further beyond than that. They are politically looking to circumvent the rule of law," said Raymond Herrera, founder of We The People, California's Crusader

Herrera said the action by the church is detrimental to society, and the passage of the act is another way of rewarding amnesty.

"They are here illegally and when the church dabbles in meetings like (the one on Friday), it is breaking the law," he said.


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But Andrews said the diocese is careful to follow guidelines under its status as a nonprofit.

"The Catholic Church's obligation is to teach moral values that shape our lives through public policy," he said. "We don't look at it as a political perspective but a moral perspective."

The church has not supported a political candidate or a political party at such gatherings, Andrews said.

A similar DREAM Night on Sept. 4 at Our Lady of Soledad Parish in Coachella was not protested, said Kathi Scarpace, coordinator of the Justice for Immigrants Campaign for the diocese.

The diocesan Justice for Immigrants office as well as the Ministry with Youth Office for the Diocese of San Bernardino have sponsored the events.

The event at Sacred Heart at 12704 Foothill Blvd. included prayer, testimonies from undocumented students as well as music, videos, skits and poetry.

Young people were encouraged to get their parish involved in e-mailing elected officials or putting a petition together to encourage the act's passage, Scarpace said.

While immigration is a controversial issue, Scarpace said the Dream Act has received bipartisan support. The act has not been approved by federal lawmakers.

"We feel people who are vulnerable don't have a voice. We feel, as Catholics, as no fault of their own, that they are vulnerable," she said.

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