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Religious leaders at immigration reform forum

Sofia Hoya, of Hempstead, who came to the

Sofia Hoya, of Hempstead, who came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant in 1986, tells her story to a a panel of faith, business and labor leaders who gathered at the Congregational Church in Patchogue. (Aug. 29, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A priest, a minister, a rabbi and an imam met at the Congregational Church of Patchogue Thursday and found common ground for a compassionate approach to immigration reform.

The religious leaders cited sacred texts and faith principles as they united prayers for what Rabbi Joel Levinson of Temple Beth-El in Patchogue called "a just path, a righteous path" toward legalization and eventual citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally.

They spoke at a forum with labor and immigrant advocates and the Patchogue business chamber while legislative efforts toward reform have stalled in the House of Representatives. The gathering's goal was to promote "common-sense immigration solutions," said Maryanne Sinclair Slutsky, director of the immigrant-advocacy group Long Island Wins.

The Rev. John Sureau of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Lindenhurst echoed Pope Francis, saying believers are judged "on how we treat the most needy."

Imam Muhammed Abdul Jabbar of the Muslim Center of Long Island in Bay Shore cited a history of migrations for the prophets and patriarchs of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. "The Quran says that we should offer equal opportunity to the people who are coming, the opportunity of jobs and citizenship."

The Rev. Dwight Wolter, whose church hosted the event, said, "All of these words are wonderful," but urged advocates to preach not only to supporters but also to engage those with concerns about immigration's effects on health care costs, housing violations and public school crowding.

"Until we can invite people to the table who have these concerns that we don't agree with, I cannot imagine a comprehensive healing," Wolter said.

Sofia Joya of Hempstead, who entered the country illegally in 1986 and has since became a U.S. citizen, told of working for years in low-pay jobs to put a daughter through school in El Salvador.

"My dream is for there to be immigration reform," said Joya, 49, "so that other undocumented persons can have that privilege that I've had."

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