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Nuns' billboard campaign welcomes immigrants

The Associated Press, February 5, 2002

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) -- An organization of Catholic sisters has launched a billboard campaign to welcome immigrants to Iowa.

Sisters United News, representing 13 congregations of Catholic sisters in Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin and western Illinois, has placed billboards in eight Iowa cities, including Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Davenport encouraging Iowans to "Welcome the immigrant you once were." Half of the billboard shows a modern day family photo, while the other depicts a reflection of immigrants from the early 20th century.

SUN took on the immigration issue almost two years ago after problems between immigrants and native Iowans began to crop up, said Char Cordes, the director of communications for the Cedar Rapids-based Sisters of Mercy, a participant in SUN.

We had sensed a growing animosity in smaller rural communities that people weren't too interested in welcoming diverse cultures. We decided that a major thing we could do to help is to put it right out there on the billboard "that we were all immigrants once," she said.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, Cordes said, has also hurt public perception of immigrants.

Newspaper and television advertisements from groups such as United to Secure America, which demand a reduction in immigration, focus on fear. They aren't an accurate portrayal of Iowa immigrants, the sisters say.

"The fear right now of the terrorists has people concerned," said Sister Angele Lutgen, executive director of the Catherine McAuley Center for Women in Cedar Rapids, which tutors and assists immigrants and refugees.

"But if you look at the overall population of immigrants, they bring more to us than crime," she said. "They are hard-working and contribute to our economy. They are here to better themselves and be educated."

The billboards will be up through February.