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Evangelical leaders visit Alabama, decry state’s HB 56 anti-Latino immigrant law as “Racist” and “Un-Christian”


Op Ed by Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Nov. 21, 2011: Evangelical Christians often pose the hypothetical question of “What would Jesus do?” if forced to deal with a serious moral challenge.


However, a group of evangelical Christian leaders who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to view the effects first-hand of Alabama’s racist anti-Latino and anti-immigrant HB 56 law, also asked the question “What would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. do?” if the state of Alabama had stripped the civil rights of African-Americans forcing families to flee the state.


Even during the oppressive regime of Gov. George Wallace, the tumultuous era which brought Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to the forefront, the segregationist bastion of the Old South never attempted such a blatant attack on the basic civil liberties of US-Americans.


The mass exodus of Latinos from the state, many of them citizens with legal status, has seriously affected the state’s economy. Workers in industries, restaurants, and poultry and other farms have simply packed up and left with their families. Crops have gone unpicked, but still the right-wing politicians refuse to remedy the wrong they have perpetuated in their misguided attempt to purge Alabama of so-called “illegal immigration.”


The law withholds even such basic services as water and electricity and renewal of motor vehicle and mobile home licenses to those who the state deems as undocumented. “Legal Latinos,” especially those from El Salvador, are being pressured by local schools and are being treated as if they do have any documentation. They are not considered to be a “normal” or legal resident and are fleeing the state. Often motivated by fear, they pack their children and their clothing in their car and leave behind furniture and food in their apartments.


During a telephone conference call with reporters last week, the leaders of the Evangelical Christian Ministry called upon Latinos across the United States to move to Alabama to challenge what they called “a moral crisis at the local level.”


Although they confined their visit to the industrial city of Birmingham, members of the group visited families impacted by the law, spoke with educators and teachers, met with local pastors with congregations of immigrants and looked at the separation of families from both moral and political implications.


Rev. Samuel Rodríguez is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He said he also spoke with health care providers, citizens, and “came to the undeniable conclusion that this law is an attempt to violate basic civil rights. It is anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-Family. It is resurrecting the Spirit of George Wallace.”


Rev. Rodríguez spoke with white and Latino pastors who reported that people are fleeing the state and leaving their friends and family behind. He added that this also includes many legal residents, who are being targeted by the draconian law.


It is worth noting that unlike Arizona, which earlier targeted Latinos statewide, Alabama does not have a long Latino history.


“How can a state with so many Christians act in so unchristian a manner?” he asked, taking note that Alabama is the heart of the so-called “Bible Belt,” the predominantly Baptist evangelical constituency.


Rodríguez said teachers told him of classrooms that are now half-filled because of the mass exodus. He said students are left to inquire what happened to their classmates.


He predicted that in the 2012 national presidential election, “the Hispanic-American electorate will look to Alabama as a symbol of what the nation embraced.


“This is the Alabama that prompted Dr. King to march but all of the nation to weep,” said Rodríguez.

Rev. Samuel Rodríguez

Dr. Carlos Campo

Rev. Noel Castellanos

Rev. Danny DeLeón

Rev. Jim Tolle

Another participant, Rev. Danny DeLeón, the senior pastor of Temple Calvario in Santa Ana, California called HB 56 “racial profiling at its worst.


“It is motivated by emotional prejudice and racism. As an American citizen you have to ask

 is this really happening? Human rights are going out the window. If this were happening in any other country, we would be protesting,” said DeLeón.


“These people are being deprived of their social and legal status. They need to be able to survive,” he added.


DeLeón puts the blame on a “broken down immigration system. People came here because they could come, there was work waiting for them. Now these employers who hired the workers out of convenience turn their faces and look the other way.”


“We are sending an ugly message to our young up-and-coming generation…Our churches need to unite. It is time for us to act like Jesus.”


Rev. Jim Tolle, senior pastor of the Church on the Way in Los Angeles, said he went to Alabama to appeal to Christians.


“The law is primarily politically motivated, and fear inducing. Racism is the subconscious element. It is contrary to basic Christian principles, and to the concept of the Good Samaritan, to love thy neighbor as thyself,” said Tolle, citing Scripture to add, “love does no harm to a neighbor.


“We all came here from an immigrant background and we came without permission…The foreigner among us is entitled to the same amount of kindness and freedoms.


“I call upon our Christian friends to find solutions. A Christian does not set up walls, but gives a cup of water to those who are thirsty,” said Tolle.

Also participating in the visit were Dr. Carlos Campo, President of Regent University, Robert Gittelson, Co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and Rev. Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association – who unfortunately was unable to take part in the conference call.


Gittelson shared with reporters how he saw “shock and a feeling of bewilderment, a sadness in the expressions,” of the Latinos he talked with on his visit.


He recounted how one Alabama pastor’s congregation has dwindled from 125 to 46 people. Conversely, across the state line, a Tennessee congregation has grown to 400 from those forced to flee Alabama.


The participants agreed that one answer to the problem is federal comprehensive immigration reform.  Originally both Arizona’s US senators Jon Kyl and John McCain pushed for it, while Alabama senator Jeff Sessions opposed it and was obstructionist.


Rodríguez stated that the goal of the evangelical mission is to shine the spotlight on the human elements of the story. He said both mainline Catholic and evangelical faith communities are uniting to deal with the problem, paying special attention to the harboring provisions.


“This is outrageous. We need a coalition to reach out...The focus of the Christian ministry should be to draw attention to this situation. Not every law is a moral exercise for the common good,” agreed the organizers.


The consensus was clear: “Christian apathy is not an endorsement of the Alabama law.


“We need to reach out to others of the faith community. They cannot remain silent any longer. It is time to speak up.”






Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/22/11 16:58:21 -0800.





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