October 11, 2014
By Charita Coshay
The issue of immigration is a conversation people of faith must have, according to a group of local activists who work with Latinos.
Earlier this week, Malone University’s Office of Multicultural Services and the Latino Business League co-hosted a panel discussion about the moral, social and economic aspects of immigration, particularly as it pertains to the regarding the influx of Latinos from Central and South America.
Ohio has an estimated 425,000 immigrants, 240,000 of them are Latino, according to census data.
They included Revs. Dustin White, pastor of Rainbow Church; the Rev. Edy Herrera, pastor of Love, Canton Church, and Rafael Rodriguez, business development manager for the Canton Community Improvement Corp.
White, who worked and lived in Guatemala for a year as a missionary, said most immigrants are driven by the universal need to live in safety and to provide for their families.
“People too often talk about immigration, without knowing any immigrants,” he said. “I got to see firsthand the systemic realities of what drives people in Guatemala to places like Stark County.
We saw a poverty that haunts me to this day. There were widows who had lost their husbands to a genocide that’s been going on for 40 years. Children literally fighting off vultures on trash heaps,
trying to find something to survive on.”
MYTHS AND ISSUES
White challenged the audience to embrace Matthew 25:40 where Jesus self-identified with the marginalized.
“The reality is, we don’t need to cross oceans. We can cross the street and help immigrants who live here,” he said.
Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican, said the immigration issue has been politicized at the expense of the human need behind the issue.
“It’s a myth that immigration is a ‘Latino’ issue,” he said.
Rodriguez noted that like Europeans, Latinos from different countries have completely different concerns.
“You would think that all we had to do was march for immigration,” he said. “As a Puerto Rican, immigration is not my issue; our issue is whether we’ll gain statehood or remain a territory. Cubans could care less about Puerto Ricans’ (status). Hondurans could care less about Puerto Ricans’ or Cubans’ issues because crime in Honduras is running rampant.”
Rodriguez also pointed out that the term “Hispanic” was coined by the U.S. Bureau of the Census in the 1960s.
“Hispanics only exist in the U.S.A.,” he said to laughter. “The best way to relate to relate to Latinos is to identify them by their country of origin.”
Rodriguez said one reason undocumented Latinos, particularly Guatemalans, came to work in the U.S. in the 1980s is because “somebody sent for them.”
“You don’t get up in the morning and decide to come to Stark County,” he said. “Somebody went and got them.”
NARRATIVE OF IMMIGRATION
Citing Abraham leaving his homeland in Exodus and the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt, White said the Bible is a narrative of immigration.
“As Christians, we have formed an opinion about immigration without forming a theology about immigration,” he said. “When we talk about Central America, we’re talking about poverty.”
Herrera’s family came from Mexico in 1994, when he was 7. He said he found a way to assimilate through football.
“We have the responsibility to at least begin a conversation and be socially aware of what’s going on around us,” he said. “The majority of people are coming to the U.S...out of necessity.”
A graduate student at Regent University, Herrera will take the oath of citizenship Oct. 20.
“It’s been miracle after miracle,” he said. “What was most encouraging to me is, I had friends. You have a place and position of influence.”
White said the immigration system is not only broken, but that the deck is stacked against low-skilled people, which describes many Latino immigrants.
The average wait time to acquire legal status, he said, is 15 years.
White, who often accompanies immigrants to hearings, said about 5,000 low-skilled visas are allowed per year, in contrast to Ellis Island, which allowed 8,000 people a day.
PUSH AND PULL
Rodriguez said undocumented people are caught in a “push-and-pull” effect. “Poverty pushes people out of their homelands, and demands for labor in the U.S., pulls immigrants to the U.S. — the same reasons European immigrants came.”
He added that 15 percent of the nation’s 11 million undocumented Latino immigrants pay taxes, including an estimated $100 billion in Social Security taxes, but by law, cannot receive benefits.
“The reality is, undocumented people do the jobs a lot of
Americans simply won’t do,” White said. “They’re filling gaps in the workforce.”
Rodriguez, a 20-year military veteran, said, “We are a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation of compassion. We hear people should abide by the laws. When you say ‘come as everybody else has’ remember, immigration quotas didn’t exist until the 1920s.”
The panelists said that while some resistance to Latino immigration is rooted in law, there also are fears that the nation is changing. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest Spanish speaking country.
Rodriguez noted that historically, immigrants are often scapegoated to detract from larger, more serious issues.
“We must always uphold the dignity of the human being,” he said. “...All the fear, literally is nonsense. If people would read the Constitution, they’d see we have a system of checks and balances. We have system of government that’s going to endure. Fear-mongering is ripping us apart. Familiarity defeats racism. Get to know the immigrants in your community.”
Source: Canton Rep