Latin evangelical pastors call for comprehensive immigration reform

04/21/14 Samuel Johnson
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Tags: immigration, reform, Hispanic, Latino, pentecostal, civil rights

photo by Samuel Johnson

A large number of Latino evangelical leaders in Tampa are calling for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. An Easter Parade last Saturday is where pastors and hundreds of their parishioners gathered at St. John Presbyterian Church on MacDill Avenue and marched along the 2 mile route.

Some of the pastors will be traveling from Tampa to Washington, D.C. at the end of the month to meet with their members of Congress about immigration reform. David Velazquez, a pastor in Tampa, said he promotes a pragmatic approach.

“I say in Florida at least we can get some type of driver's license or work permit for the people that are here. Not doing an amnesty across the board. But something that will bring them out of the shadows and give them the opportunity to come out and work and contribute. And then maybe a path to a way of being free to contribute to our community.”

David Rivera, a pastor at Pentecostal Church of God in Tampa, joined the parade with 10 members of his church, all of them astride Harley Davidson motorcycles. He said riding motorcycles helps break stereotypes and reach more people. Before he became a pastor, Rivera was a member of a Latino street gang. He said Latinos are subject to more racial and ethnic profiling regardless of their status.

“Latinos have it hard because of their complexion and that's why they get it so hard. They get stopped in the airports; they get stopped in their jobs. It doesn't happen a lot of times with regular folks like Chinese or Italians but with Latinos you can tell that their Latin. So automatically people think that they're not legal.”

According to the Pew Research Center, most of the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US are of Latino origin. Agustin Quiles, a director at the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said in the push for immigration reform one insidious aspect is overlooked.

“Sex-trafficking is a byproduct of immigration. You have 300,000 girls who were sex-trafficked last year, in the United States; 70% Latina girls. Criminals are making this their focus; their main target. They're going and bringing these Latina girls from South America and Central America, promising them jobs and they have them here threatening them with deportations and their families getting deported. So, it's a whole big mess. I hope, I believe, I trust that we as American people; we're going to make a difference.”

Within the Latino community the concept of deportation or the cleaving of families has touched nearly everyone. Tampa native Shailia Lopez is of Puerto Rican heritage. Although Puerto Rico has been a protectorate of the US since 1898, Lopez said being united with other Hispanics is important.

“But I do feel like it doesn't; we don't feel it. I don't know what it will ever be like to live with that anxiety of the possibility of having to be sent back, after I have established a life and roots and a family here in the States. I can't even imagine what that would feel like. In a way I do feel like we don't feel that angst. But we do empathize, obviously, for the Latino people that have to go through that. Especially, those that are close to us.”

The US Senate passed a bill last June, but it remains halted in the Republican-led House. According to US Census predictions Florida has more than 4 million Hispanic residents. Because 2014 is a mid-term election year, the evangelical leaders hope members of congress might be persuaded to listen.

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