The debate over immigration reform has shifted from Arizona to Alabama. (Photo credit: Onlinenewswebsite.com)
On November 15th, several evangelicals held a press call denouncing Alabama’s HB 56 immigration law, which they described as “the harshest anti-immigrant law in the nation.” This law targets employers and human traffickers who facilitate illegal immigration.
The week before, this prominent evangelical group joined an “emergency delegation” sent down to Alabama in order to interview families, schools, and church congregations influenced by the new law. After their visit, they concluded that the immigration restrictions were inhumane, and they demanded liberalized reform.
First to comment in the press call was the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a leading advocate of liberalized immigration among evangelicals. He described the Alabama law as “basically an exercise in the violation of human rights,” which is “at the end of the day, anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-family.”
“We have a completely broken system,” Rodriguez argued, “By not having an actual series of laws in place and processes in place, people can’t get here legally.” Rodriguez believed nothing could be done to stem the tide of illegal workers entering the country; nevertheless, it is better for the American economy to have workers within the United States itself. “We recruit in a de facto sort of way workers from overseas,” he commented. What is worse, Rodriguez asserted, the Alabama government compels families with enforcing the law. The situation is a “tragedy…[now] that we have split these families apart.” He said all Hispanic residents “live in fear.” Rodriguez cited “legal residents who feared harassment, racial profiling, and unlawful prosecution.” He concluded: “We must redeem the Alabama narrative.”
An absent Noel Castellanos, President of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), left a statement recording, “[I]t came as a great shock when I began to hear about the new immigration law and its impact on many of the families and children living in this community. As a Hispanic and more importantly, as a Christian, I feel compelled to speak out against the negative impact this law is having on our community.” Under Castellanos, the CCDA—originally devoted to black civil rights during the 1960s—has shifted its weight towards Hispanic and Asian immigration rights over the years.
Rev. Danny DeLeon, Senior Pastor of Calvary Church in Santa Ana, CA, and Chairman of the National Hispanic Pentecostal Congress, declared, “I believe human rights have gone out the window.” He further claimed, “This is racial profiling at the worst” where legislators are “acting out of racial prejudice and racism.” DeLeon also condemned Alabama’s business leaders: “They should have been custodians of the law…but out of convenience, they broke the law.” He defended illegal immigrants: “People came in the first place because they could.” DeLeon noted that employers should not have employed illegal laborers in the first place. Now Alabama has shrunk to the “lowest level of human decency” which “gives an ugly message to our young up-and-coming generation.”
Rev. Jim Tolle, Senior Pastor of Church on the Way, Los Angeles, CA, claimed: “This law runs counter to Christian teaching. As a Republican and an Evangelical, I’ve come here to say to Alabamians that this law is misguided and is tearing families apart across the state.” He confessed, “I’ve been moved by situations in which legal Hispanics…have been targeted and have unfortunately carried the weight and brunt of this law.” And he spoke of a “racism that is subconscious in people” that requires rooting out. Tolle urged his listeners to “acknowledge that maybe inadvertently we’ve become too harsh in the implementation of our laws.” He also claimed, “The law does not recognize the most basic Christian teachings,” without explaining which teachings were violated. “We’re supposed to be loving our neighbor as ourselves, and that’s not happening in Alabama,” he insisted. “We must understand that our people arrived here without permission. We are all immigrants ourselves…We must never forget that the foreigner amongst us today needs to be treated with the same kindness and freedoms that we have enjoyed.”
Next spoke Dr. Carlos Campo of Pat Robertson’s Regent University in Virginia Beach. Taking a more lawyerly approach, Campo declared, “Laws are in place for specific reasons, and I guess I question whether or not that this is the right law to meet the goals Alabama was hoping to reach.” The university president continued, “While the intent might have been that it was a call for help to the federal government…I don’t think in its implementation it behooves the state and isn’t what the state of Alabama is all about.” Campo believed many immigrants hold “a deep sense of gratitude for this country.” He also deemed it ironic that “we spend millions of dollars to attract students from all over the world” when America has such a huge immigrant populace that “shares our values.”
Robert Gittelson of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CfCIR) predicted, “I’m not sure we’ll see the same kind of backlash as we did in Arizona.” He noted that the immigration policies seemed to hurt both Alabama and immigrants, but he hoped that a solution would be achieved through legal means. Rodriguez later intoned, “Many of the gentlemen here are strongly opposed to illegal immigration.” Campo himself said, “I’m not talking about amnesty. I’m talking about a pathway that represents who we are as Americans.”
Gittelson, Campo, Rodriguez, and Tolle all have ties to CfCIR. Likewise, Campo and the absent Castellanos addressed the recent Cedarville G92 Immigration Conference sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals. These advocates of liberalized immigration hope to make immigration the civil rights issue of the early 21st century.
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