Latino evangelicals challenge Alabama brethren on immigration
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
November 13th, 2011
09:28 PM ET

Latino evangelicals challenge Alabama brethren on immigration

By Gustavo Valdes, CNN

Birmingham, Alabama (CNN) - When the Alabama legislature approved what is considered the nation's toughest anti-illegal immigration law, much of the state's religious community was quick to condemn it.

The Roman Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches went to court to block the law, calling it "the nation's most merciless anti-immigration legislation." But Latino evangelical leaders say a key voice in Alabama's debate is missing - that of their own denominations.

"Because this is at some level a moral issue, and the religious community cannot stand idly by and allow a moral issue like this to go without a comment," said Carlos Campo, president of Virginia's Regent University, the college founded by evangelical icon Pat Robertson.

Religious leaders met in Birmingham last week to discuss the their role in the debate, with about 50 people gathering in a theater-turned-church.

"What is happening in Alabama is incredible," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the California-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "It is a repeat of the chapter lived by African-Americans, but now the African-Americans are Latinos and immigrants."

Campo and Rodriguez said that while consensus exists among evangelical leaders to speak out on immigration issues, the message is not reaching the pews.

"The pastors are failing, within the evangelical movement, in contextualizing the message to their members to call the elected officials at the local and federal level, and encourage an immigration reform that is not amnesty, but is not Alabama either. We have to find something in the middle that has a biblical balance," said Rodriguez, whose group represents churches with a membership of about 16 million.

According to a recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Survey, more than 45% of Alabama residents identify themselves as evangelicals. But Campo said that group is not speaking with a unified voice.

"I think it is very hard as an evangelical, when I hear it is the Catholic and Methodist churches that came to the forefront and were the first ones to speak out and speak out strongly, but many in the evangelical community have resisted that," he said.

"Justice and mercy should go hand in hand, and I think we have to challenge the evangelical church to come to the forefront and be more unified that we've been," he added.

Alabama's HB 56, which Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law in June, allows police to question crime suspects about their immigration status and arrest those believed to be in the United States illegally. It requires someone renting a house or buying a car to verify their legal status, while anyone trying to connect to services such as public water or sewers must have state-issued identification.

The Episcopal, Methodist and Catholic churches' lawsuit asked a federal judge to block portions of the law that criminalized the transport and housing of illegal immigrants, provisions they argued would prevent them from providing services to illegal immigrants. Though the church lawsuit was dismissed, US. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn blocked those provisions in a separate lawsuit filed by the federal government and a coalition of civic groups that included the American Civil Liberties Union.

Campo said that, if Jesus was alive today, he'd be in Alabama dealing with the issue. But what would Jesus do?

Proponents and opponents of laws such as HB 56 each have the backing of the Bible, said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy at the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest U.S. evangelical denominations.

"Basically those two positions are two sides of the same coin," Duke said, adding, "What we are failing to see at this point is a concerted effort to bring those sides to a comprehensive approach to what we call a just approach to the illegal immigration problem."

Duke said the SBC does not support broad amnesty, favors securing the border and enforcing existing laws but recognizes the need for some type of solution to the problem. He points to the group's website, where he said there are resources for pastors to draw from and explain the issue to their congregations.

"I would certainly encourage church leadership to engage congregations in a process of discovery and education in the issue of illegal immigration and the development of a Christian response to the plight of the illegal immigrant, as well as the impact on the rest of the nation." he said.

But attendance was sparse at last week's event in Birmingham, where organizers did not allow reporters out of fear that some pastors would not attend if their presence was publicly known.

"I think you are looking at people in local situations trying to address problems in their own ways," Duke said. "I think it probably reflects the reality that they are in conversation with each other and feel it is appropriate for themselves to resolve problems without outside interference."

The one point of agreements among all is the perceived failure of the federal government to address the illegal immigration issue .

"The Democrats failed," said Rodriguez, who has met with President Barack Obama and his advisers to discuss immigration reform. "President Obama and the Democrats had control of the government for three years and failed to deliver on their promise to the Latino community. The Republican Party has failed in its rhetoric. Their rhetoric has been anti-immigration, anti- Latino, nativist. Both parties have failed."

And Duke predicted that continued inaction at the federal level will result in states debating more laws like HB 56.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Alabama • Immigration

soundoff (367 Responses)
  1. Martin

    Illegal immigration is a difficult issue for me. I agree the laws should be enforced. I see it a pure mismanagement...

    We want the cheap products that come from the cheap labor.....but we refuse to grant the number of work visas needed.

    The Bible says that you are to treat aliens like you do native born, but it also says that the role of government is to uphold the law. The Bible also acknowledges the borders of nations as legitimate, and the countries have the right to defend their borders.

    I don't want 12-20 Mill illegals deported.. the teenagers in my neighborhood would not mow my lawn or trim my hedges for $50.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  2. Casey

    It's always funny to me how the anti-religious will find fault with the religious, regardless of the issue. It's the same old bla bla bla... religion bad nonsense. I don't think they even read the stories they comment on. They're like modern day Ahabs... I am sure that if the Catholic Church came out with a cure for Cancer tomorrow, the usual anti-religious bloggers would still find a way of bashing the Church. It's sad really. If only we could choose mercy, Love, forgivinness, and embrace the devine word of Christ, the World would be a much better place.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • bob

      I like how you use a phoney and unlikely scenario to make a point that Atheists are bad.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  3. bob

    Illegals are Mexico's rednecks. The Mexican citizens complain about how ignorant they are. They are the trash of Mexico yet we act like they're an endangered species.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • bobg2

      There is no group of human beings that I would ever call trash. My religion counsels me to be tolerant and even assertive in looking out for the less fortunate. Would you mind telling me how your religion could encourage you to call other human beings trash?

      November 14, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  4. Terry

    On the surface, it appears we have a problem with semantics. I happen to be the second generation of immigrants who arrived in the United States on a large ship, that dropped my grandparents at Ellis Island. I have met many "illegals" primarily from Mexico, Middle America, and South America. In each case, these illegals came to the United States looking for a better life for their family. We no longer have Ellis Island, however the desire to come to the United States is as strong as it every was for foreign born nationals seeking a better life. Statistics prove that illegals will perform work that most US Citizens will not perform. As a result, we find companies, like McDonalds, or Country Clubs, or Farmers, or your favorite fancy restaurant, all willing to break the law in order to get the laborers they each need. So why not arrest the CEO of McDonalds? Why not arrest the Board of Directors of every Country Club that hires illegals, just to save a few dollars for Club Members? You cannot arrest farmers, because they are provided access to illegal field laborers by the United States Government. It appears that folks like to complain about illegals, but very few are willing to perform the vacated job left behind when the illegals are asked to leave. Wow, so that is what semantics means!

    November 14, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  5. Martin

    The essence of believing something is to choose it above others. It is an incoherent statement to say that people who believe their beliefs are superior to others are idiots.

    That is the definition of belief.. to make a CHOICE..to say to yourself.. I choose this belief over that belief.. BECAUSE... ????? I judge it to be superior.

    Moral relativism is a form of mental retardation.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • sqeptiq

      You hate capital punishment as much as you hate abortion, right? No moral relativism for you, is there?

      November 14, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • Martin

      Babies are innocent under mans law, criminals are guilty. Nevertheless, I do not like the death penalty.. For me as a Christian.. once someone is dead.. we cannot save him. So we loose our opportunity. I recognize that the Bible allows it, and many nations allow it. But even Jeffery Dahmer, and The Son of Sam, were saved.
      The Son of Sam now spends his days helping other inmates that are mentally challenged, and donating his bok proceeds to his victims families. That is a man who has converted and become a true Christian.


      November 14, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  6. zoundsman

    "insassionable" Def: State of a proctologist's tool, sterilized, and ready for insertion.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • zoundsman

      Above: a reply to Peter Q Wolf (some reason ended up way out there).

      November 14, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  7. derf

    Illegal is illegal. Follow the rules and you are welcome.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  8. &

    As an atheist, I have no qualms or guilt about supporting anti-illegal immigrant measures. DEPORT EM!

    November 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      That's nice. the fact is, the US economy can't work without them. What is your solution to that ?

      November 14, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  9. theoldadam

    This a clear case of the two kingdoms doctrine. There must be laws and they must be enforced. No country with open borders has ever survived.

    Christians must obey the law when it does not contradict God's law. Open borders is NOT a God thing.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  10. Josh Jaye

    I'm sure that most people have figured out that there is an agenda in this country. Our government has made deals and pacts with the governments of Mexico and Canada. That's why the administration never attempts immigration reform. It is not on the agenda; even though the laws have been on the Federal books for decades. A country that does not seal and protect it's borders, is not a soverign country. A country that does not enforce it's own Federal laws, is ineffective in all other areas as well. Take a good look. We have a country teeming with illegals. Our government is giving them more rights than Citizens have, including employment. They are a constant drain on the system, which it's not my choice to help pay for them, however, I do. Everyone does who pays taxes. Several states have attempted to solve their own illegal problem, yet the Government is challenging those states. What is wrong with this picture? Human beings have proven that they are not capable of governing themselves. "the love of money is the root of all evil". Greed and Corruption.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Josh is Wrong


      Are you aware that the Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants since January 2009 than Bush II did in all of his eight years in office. They also do as much as they can at the broders with the resources they have. Where in the world aer you going to get the money do make the borders air-tight? You would have to hire tens of thousands of border agents and build incredibly expensive border defenses. Do you know how many thousands of miles of border we have?

      Our nation cannot afford to do it. Besides, it would require a tax increase to raise the funds and the tea-baggers won't go down that road - unless, of course, we're talking about taking more from the middle class and poor to do it.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  11. InEarnest

    White Evangelics were among the last to condemn those suppressing Blacks in the south and this is no different. The reason? I would say it might be because there are too many Whites in Evangelical circles who might consider themselves distant from those who suffer from any kind of racism, whether it is Black racism or Latino racism. I would venture to say that perhaps many Evangelicals aren't as color blind as they want to believe.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  12. frootyme

    Anyone who thinks his belief is superior to others is an idiot.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • heliocracy

      Except that beliefs based on facts are, in fact, superior to beliefs based on fairy tales.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Martin

      The essence of believing something is to choose it above others. It is an meaningless statement to say that people who believe their beliefs are superior to others are idiots.

      That is the definition of belief.. to make a CHOICE..to say to yourself.. I choose this belief over that belief.. BECAUSE... ????? I judge it to be superior.

      Moral relativism is a form of mental retardation.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  13. Reality

    If we would cut our own grass, do our own landscaping, pick our own vegetables/fruit, cook our own food, clean our own laundary, care for own kids and clean our homes and churches/temples ourselves, there would be no need for Mexican, Haitian, Irish, Italian and/or Asian "slaves" and therefore there would be no illegal immigration.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • What?

      Right, and we'd all live happily ever after in 1846. The computer on which you type your wish for the past was made possible by the WORLD economy. So is the medicine that will keep your brain alive much longer than it would have been in the days you pine for.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  14. Dandy

    Evangelicals == brainless idiots

    November 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • XYZ

      I am horrified at these new laws. The majority, including blue states, could give a crap about the black and hispanic community, and people are very mad at Obama now. This is also a win/win for the black community to either have the latinos vote for Obama, or ship them out and regain their jobs. I am an evangelical, but I am histerical at this, as well as several other things going on in the country. I have a feeling we may be made the scapegoat for the economy.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Jack

      Nope, just paranoid and delusional. It's what happens when you spend your time thinking about unreal things like God, Jesus and the Bible, you lose confidence in yourself because you've lost touch with reality.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • Jack in a Mor0n

      Right, Jack.

      You apparently know that God isn't real. And your proof is...that's right, you have no proof. By the way, there is plenty of proof that Jesus really did live in the time and places he is purported to have done so. Take your small mind elsewhere until you have something useful to add.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  15. Larry L

    Religious people rarely live their lives in accordance with their own doctrine. The dogma of religion creates rules too difficult for people to follow in real life.

    America is a country of imigrants – but the inn is nearly full. The folks on the bottom of the food chain are nervous... Everybody wants to be the last one to move into paradise, but it rapidly stops being paradise when the inn is full... Where do we draw the line?

    November 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Martin

      Larry: Religious people are not the only ones who cannot live up to their moral code.. it is a universal human trait, which is the basis of Christianity.. "All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God"
      I know you aren't claiming non-religious people ARE capable of living up to their own moral codes.. right? People can't even keep their own New Years Resolutions...that is how morally weak human beings are..

      But many people turn around and use the fact that people cannot live up to moral code as an excuse to condemn the moral code itself. They do this because they desire to violate the moral code themselves, and wish to tear it down.

      IF a Christian says.."Adultery is immoral.. because it destroys childrens lives" and then he himself commits adultery.. it doen't mean the idea is bad, it is just validation of the basic Christian assumption.. that man is a sinner, and cannot free himself from his sinful state. One Perfect God can do it.
      Jn 3:16: For God so loved the world.....

      November 14, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • No More Room

      Well, why don't we start with you, Larry. You were probably born here, but why in the world do you deserve to be here? What great thing have you done to deserve the right to be here? If you left, the "inn" would have a vacancy.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  16. sikpupi

    Is it any surprise that the Ku Klux Klan originated in the South? The American South, of which Alabama is a prime member, is chock full of fascists. Backwards, rustic, inbred, and small-minded – these are hallmark characteristics of the South. Ever since the Civil Rights Act outlawed the persecution of the Blacks, the southerners have pined for another population group to vilify. With the advent of the Hispanics, the southerners can resume their hate fest while carefully concealing it under a veneer of "respect for the law." This anti-Hispalnic law is mean and small-minded – perfectly in tune with the Southern mentality.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Dr.K.

      In painting all Southerners with one broad, ugly, and stereotypical brushstroke, you make it clear that your outlook is just as crude as the racists you supposedly condemn.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  17. john

    If America were to legalize the millions of illegals living here, they would be faced with a serious challenge.: Most would have access to far more social welfare programs, including social security BUT will not pay income taxes. Why? Most of our illegal immigrants are from the most impoverished parts of Latin America and are not very well educated or skilled. They will work low level unskilled jobs that don't pay well. Right now only 53% of Americans pay income taxes, but in a few years that will drop to 48%, a minority supporting the majority. Add in the 11 million illegal immigrants and you have probably 43% supporting 57% of the population.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Johan S

      Eliminate welfare .. then what would the problem be? Isn't having more workers a good thing? The more workers there are, the more stuff can be built. The more hosting, more schools, more roads, the more infrastructure .. all of that. I don't understand why workers are a bad thing. Remember the great depression? And the the prohibition crime waves? America has seen far worse economic strife, and far worse violent crime .. yet she got out of it. The murder rate during the prohibition era was 4 times higher than today. And unemployment during the Great Depression was 3 times higher.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  18. Bullet

    If you folks that think it is O.K. for the illegals to stay in our country and use our food stamp system to feed their growing hordes of kids and use our over stretched medical facilities and send their kids to fill up our classrooms you better get ready for some very bad things that are going to happen. You might think you are immune to bad times because you are the ones that are lucky enough to have good paying jobs or are married to someone that have good paying jobs. The Republicans have been bashing Obama since before he was sworn in, when the fact of the matter is it was the Republicans that looked the other way and allowed the illegals to work in this country. They were all pretty much located in the border states working for the wealthy ranchers and the agriculture conglomerates until Ronald [Bonzo] Reagan gave them green cards. When they got the green cards, they said "man, I aint going to pick no more spinach, I am going to Georgia and build houses and do yard work for all those rich Republicans that live there".

    November 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Ender

      One needs a social security number to get food stamps. That fact comes from ssa.gov. Of course it's possible that illegals are using other people's SSN's to get food stamps, I think it's highly unlikely that the number you are implying is really doing it. And if you think that illegals can cough up the $5000 or more that it takes to purchase a fake SSN and use it to apply for food stamps going through a filter that likely cross checks a database, well, then you are probably wrong. I don't know any illegals. Do you?

      November 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  19. Aacon

    illegal illegal illegal illegal...get it ? Only the ones here illegal.I see no problem with the law for legal citizens of the U.S.A. . Just go through the process to be here legal & not illegal & their will be no problem.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  20. Peter Q Wolfe

    I for on have lived in Tx, Nm, Nv and Al now for college on the last one, so I have an unique scope of events of all. In Deming, Nm the illegal immigrants would crawl across our border for the cheap labour that our companies would provide to them from either being fooled or wanting to exploit people for more profit. This is cause in part our insassionable hunger for beef, agrilcultural products and wanting everything cheap without paying the price for anything as opposed to what it was like prior to 1965 even of the exclusion acts or the reforms therein. So, I propose having more green cards for more industries by imposing a fee on employers and puttin that money to invest back in their homand like Mexico for a long term comprehensive plan. We could also forbid children from thier arents labour to live in their home land just simply not many people are racist rather we cannot live in two America's like multuiculturalism failed in Germany and i Britain and will fail here. Tim to act now not later, and religio is worthless in this conversation.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Bullet

      Hoss, if you cannot spell or write better than you are showing, you are at the right State. If you can learn to run with a football you might get a Masters degree at the University of Alabama.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • steven harnack

      This country is founded on multi-cultualrism! Every single person here except for native Americans came from somewhere else and brought their culture with them. You're in college like I'm the King of Mars!

      November 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Peter the English Major


      How did you get accepted to the University of Alabama? Clearly, you failed english in high school. How can a person that was born here (apparently) and grew up here in the United States not have better english skills than you have? It all goes to your credibility, Peter. Present yourself as a learned person with an opinion that deserves to be considered and people will consider it. Otherwise...

      November 14, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      You can't seriously think we believe you got into college the way you write and spell. Maybe Jim-Bob's College of Moonshine production. Yeee-haw.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:50 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.