Delegation Says HB 56 Is Racist

Delegation Says HB 56 Is Racist

A delegation of prominent evangelical leaders traveled to Alabama this week to oppose the state’s new immigration law, HB 56. The group spent a day at a Birmingham church, where they talked to educators, students, health care providers, pastors, and families impacted by the law, they told reporters on a conference call yesterday.

Where Are White Evangelicals Now?

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, described HB 56 as an “anti-American,” “anti-Christian,” “anti-family” “violation of basic civil rights.” He said it is instilling fear, not only in undocumented immigrants, but in those who are in the United States legally.

I asked Rodriguez if there is more or less white evangelical support for comprehensive immigration reform now than there was when I interviewed him about the issue for Christianity Today in 2006.

“We have more white evangelicals supportive than in 2006 for sure, both in its leadership and from people in the pews, but I cannot come to the considered conclusion that we have overwhelming or even majority support in the evangelical community for a comprehensive solution,” said Rodriguez. “We do not have enough support to push back the Alabama law.”

Rodriguez described Alabama as a strongly evangelical state in the heart of the Bible belt and said that if Christians had put their faith before their American citizenship, the law would never have passed.

“It was Christian apathy in Alabama—that’s the best case scenario—if not Christian endorsement of the Alabama law that has resulted in our current malaise,” said Rodriguez.

Does Rodriguez Regret African American Comparison?

In light of UrbanFaith reader criticism of Rodriguez’s statement to CNN comparing the plight of Hispanics and undocumented immigrants to that of African Americans, I asked if the comparison diminished the long history of African American oppression in this country.

“No, as a matter of fact, I stand by my comments one hundred percent,” said Rodriguez.

“I can tell you that the vast majority of African Americans understand that what’s taking place here is a lot more than just illegal immigration. …The things that we’re seeing in Alabama and Arizona, these manifestations, they’re not addressing the elephant in the room. They’re trying to go around it, and that is the Latinization of America. The 21st century is an immigrant civil rights issue, a Latino civil rights issue because the vast majority of immigrants are Latino. This has to do with pressing one for English and pressing two for Spanish. Let’s not be naive. This is not just about illegal immigration,” Rodriguez explained.

Earlier on the call, Rodriguez had said his organization is launching a campaign to encourage Hispanic leaders and pastors move to Alabama in order to test whether or not the intention of the law is to “purge” Alabama of “any ethnicity group that does not reflect the majority composition of the state.”

Perhaps this is what he had in mind when he told me “initiatives, campaigns, billboards, conference calls” won’t succeed. “We need a movement that will accomplish comprehensive immigration reform,” Rodriguez concluded.

Is the Moral Obligation Greater?

Dr. Carlos Campo, president of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, also weighed in on the Civil Rights movement comparison.

“This movement is not about a people that are protected, at least in language, by the laws of the United States as fully, clearly as African Americans were, at least in the letter of the law,” said Campo. “That’s one of the reasons there’s an even greater obligation in terms of a moral response here, is these are the least and the last in our community. These are the very ones to whom we believe our God would call us to because they don’t have equal protection under the law.”

Campo doesn’t believe Alabamans fully understood the implications of the law, he said.

“I think there were certain leaders who did understand, but I believe there are a number of people in the Alabama faith community, as they see the implementation of this law, are appalled by what has been passed. And I think it is time for folks in the church not to remain silent any longer and to speak up on behalf of those who cannot or are too fearful to do so,” said Campo.

Is HB 56 Racial Profiling at Its Worst?

Also on the call was Rev. Daniel DeLeon, Senior Pastor of Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, California, and chairman of the National Hispanic Pentacostal Congress.

DeLeon was motivated to go to Alabama after he heard politicians say the law is accomplishing what they wanted it to accomplish. This represents “racial profiling at its worst,” he said. It bothered him too, as an American citizen, to see that “human rights have gone out the window,” he said.

Rev. Jim Tolle, senior pastor of Church on the Way in Los Angeles, California, described himself as a Republican evangelical, and said he believes “subconscious racism” was at play in the passage of HB56. He called attention to the fact that all Americans other than “first nations people” have immigrant histories. “Everybody arrived without permission,” said Tolle.

Both Tolle and DeLeon talked about the immigration struggles of longtime members of their Calfiornia churches. Tolle said a 27 year member had been deported “overnight” and DeLeon said a leader in his church had been trying unsuccessfully for years to legalize his immigration status. Both of these men have children who were born in the United States, the pastors said.

Do the Players Matter?

Robert Gittelson, co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, said nothing that undocumented immigrants face in California compares to what they are facing in Alabama and Arizona. He noted that Arizona senators John McCain and Jon Kyl were key proponents of the failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 and a key “obstructionist” was Alabama senator Jeff Sessions. Sessions is still a leading opponent of comprehensive immigration reform, he said.

What do you think?

Is Rev. Rodriguez’s response to reader criticism of his African American / undocumented immigrant comparison adequate?

O, Arizona

O, Arizona for Urban Faith

One Latino pastor’s open letter to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona before the passage of the state’s strict new immigration law.

The following open letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, by New York pastor Gabriel Salguero, appeared at Sojourner’s God’s Politics blog prior to the passage of Arizona’s controversial new immigration law. Needless to say, Gov. Brewer was not persuaded by the letter. But Rev. Salguero’s points are still helpful to consider as the debate over immigration reform intensifies in our nation. — Editor

Esteemed Governor Brewer:

My wife and I are both Evangelical pastors who have unrelenting commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our parents are ministers and from an early age we were taught that a fundamental tenet of the Gospel is to love your neighbor and be hospitable to the stranger. It is with this commitment in mind that I write to you asking you to veto SB 1070.

The bill navigates dangerously close to an enforcement policy which lends itself to the very dangerous and undemocratic practice of racial profiling. In this country we have not required or insisted on people carrying documentation to prove their citizenship. If this law passes I run the danger of being arrested or detained for DRIVING WHILE BROWN in Arizona. This is not in keeping with the highest and most noble of U.S. ideals. If this law were enacted, my 90-year-old grandfather who is a World War II veteran could be detained without cause. Worse still, clergy and all people of good will who are called to serve all people regardless of race, gender, or birth origin would be exposed to being arrested and detained for following their call as servants of God. As Christians we cannot refuse to serve and love the immigrant, legal or not. The Gospel requires more of us.

What seems to me most troubling about SB 1070 is that it threatens to divide children from their parents and underline enforcement without providing any real common-sense and workable solutions to immigration challenges. Governor, by vetoing SB 1070 you have the opportunity to show real courage and leadership in a way that history will judge with honorable distinction.

Enforcement without comprehensive immigration reform is not the way forward. Comprehensive immigration reform is the way forward in ways that Arizona and the rest of the country win. Some time ago I blogged on The Washington Post website about why comprehensive immigration reform is what is best for this country. I send you some of my thoughts from that blog here, praying that it will influence you to do the wise and humane thing and veto SB 1070. Perhaps your veto will once again spark the conscience of this country to remember that the truest test of America’s character is how it treats the stranger, widow, and orphan.

• The economic question: They are a burden on our tax and economic system; why don’t they go home? Studies show that the close to 12 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom already pay taxes and Social Security, want to continue to contribute to the system. Comprehensive immigration reform should require these immigrants to pay back taxes, learn English, and wait in line behind the people who entered legally. The system as is does not allow for this integration nor does it address unscrupulous employers who exploit cheap labor. A new system that requires these immigrants to integrate and employers and employees to pay taxes will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. The status quo does not in any way address this challenge; reform does. Reform can help the economy. The U.S. can and should have the creative genius to make this a win-win for all.

• The moral question: How do we balance respect for the rule of law and compassion for all people? This is a fair question. I think we should respect the law and that’s why any reform should include requiring the following: paying back-taxes, penalties to employers who may have circumvented the system, and borders being controlled and supervised in humane ways. Nevertheless, what do we do with the 12 million men, women, and children that are already here? Deportation is not reasonable and it remains beyond our economic capacities. In short, reform must include both respect for the rule of law and a way that integrates all people in common sense ways. Enforcement only is both a drain on our local law enforcement and economy and does not in any competent way address the issue of the millions of people here. THE LAW IS BROKEN. LET’S FIX IT.

• The faith question: What does the Church or my faith have to do with it? Simply stated, as a Christian I am mandated to love my neighbor as myself without prejudice to origin, color, or creed. Jesus himself reminds Christians to “welcome the stranger” in Matthew 25. In addition, the Torah of the Hebrew scriptures reminds us continually to be kind and merciful to the stranger, widow, and orphan. In the end a nation is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable among them. My faith compels me to speak for and with the immigrants and their families. Love thy neighbor does not have a border limitation.

Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to the highest of our values. If Christ welcomed me unconditionally, should I do any less with others?

Sincerely,
Rev. Gabriel Salguero