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?

Alabama’s ‘Incredible’ Immigration Law

Alabama’s ‘Incredible’ Immigration Law

Alabama’s ‘Incredible’ Immigration Law

Alabama’s new immigration law is reportedly the toughest in the nation. The law, HB 56, grants police license to question and arrest crime suspects about their immigration status, and requires renters, car buyers, and those connecting public utilities to verify their legal status, CNN reported.

If the goal is to scare undocumented workers out of Alabama, as critics contend, it’s working when it comes to farm workers and school aged children, some say.

“Incredible” is how National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Rev. Samuel Rodriguez described the law in an interview with CNN. “It is a repeat of the chapter lived by African Americans, but now the African Americans are Latinos and immigrants,” said Rodriguez.

A Voice Crying in the Evangelical Wilderness

Although Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and United Methodist churches filed suit to block the law, Rodriguez and other Latino evangelical leaders told CNN that their own voices are missing from the debate. But I know from personal experience that his isn’t one of them.

I interviewed Rodriguez for a 2006 Christianity Today article about how Southern California churches were dealing with the undocumented immigrants in their midst. He said then that protecting our borders is important, but so is Leviticus 19:34, which instructs us to treat the “alien” living among us the same as the native-born, because the people of God were once aliens in Egypt.

Rodriguez has been trying at least since 2005 to convince his white evangelical brethren to stand up for these principles.

“I would like to see the white evangelical church make some clear-cut statements that would resonate with the Leviticus 19 principle alongside with what we are stating: Let’s protect our borders; there is a legitimate border issue. . . . Nonetheless, we need to work at creating programs within our churches that will facilitate the expeditious acquisition of documents, residency, and citizenry requirements for these Hispanic immigrants,” he said.

Minutemen Founder Reconsiders Racism

A key activist in the opposition movement in 2006 was Jim Gilchrist, founder of the controversial border protection group, The Minutemen Project. I met Gilchrist at a meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, where he was a featured guest.

When I interviewed him, he said he hoped churches weren’t ministering to undocumented immigrants “at all,” and amidst the propaganda and conspiracy theorizing at the meeting, one audience member described unauthorized Mexicans as “cockroachs.” If I recall correctly, no one, including Gilchrist, objected.

Gilchrist has apparently had a change of heart. In an Atlantic interview with Conor Friedersdorf, Gilchrist said that after years of infighting in the movement he founded, he realizes that a small percentage of it is “nothing but a bunch of skinheads.”

“From the far right, you get those who were attracted to my movement because they were outright, incurable racists. It’s white power fanatics. But they’re no different than the black power fanatics or the brown berets. Every race, color and creed seems to have their five percent of incurable fascists that are just looking for a place to hide. Or a place to infiltrate and take over,” said Gilchrist.

Gilchrist can’t be convinced that human beings will ever see each other as equals, he said. “There is going to be bias and we need to have those laws to protect us from each other,” he concluded.

What do you think?

Are undocumented immigrants and Latinos the “new African Americans” or does racism know no color as Gilchrist now contends?