Joint Statement from Rev. Derrick Harkins, Senior Pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference for the House Judiciary Committee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement’s Subcommittee Hearing: Making Immigration Work for American Minorities

March 1, 2011

As faith leaders of African-American and Hispanic congregations, we come together to affirm our commitment to an economic solution that honestly addresses the need for good jobs for everyone in our communities, without seeking to pit us against one another for political gain.  We acknowledge that many in our congregations are struggling economically and feeling the pain of unemployment, but we reject the tactics of political leaders who use their positions of power to foster divisions and resentment between the African-American, Hispanic, and immigrant communities.

Their approach is not new. Politicians and special interest groups have long sought to reinforce the notion that our communities are at odds and in competition for jobs, public resources, and civil rights advancement.  These same groups portray immigrants as Hispanics who flout the legal immigration system and deliberately displace American workers, damaging the opportunities and freedoms of African-Americans.  These images ignore the reality: that immigrants from all over the world are woven into the fabric of African-American and Hispanic communities across the country. The divisive tactics of special interests serve only to prevent the possibility of true transformation in our system.

However, our search for justice and equality unifies us across ethnic lines:  We know that blaming a particular group of people – rather than acknowledging and addressing the brokenness of our current immigration system – will never lead to real solutions for our nation.  We also recognize that fear of those who are different will greatly hinder our nation’s progress, and we must actively expose and uproot this element of the current debate.  

As leaders of faith communities, we are called to care for the poor and welcome the stranger. We stand on the principles of Dr. King and others who proclaim that God gave all people human dignity and value, regardless of race or position in life.  This means keeping children and parents together, and establishing pathways by which our immigrant brethren may seek a better life for themselves and their families and contribute fully to our communities. 

We recognize that justice will only come when we move beyond false divisions and turn to the real challenge: building an economy and society that welcomes and rewards all those who seek to work hard and contribute to our general welfare. We cannot sit by as our leaders play up concerns for African or Hispanic Americans as an excuse to avoid the real work at hand, and we pray that politicians in both parties will rise above these cynical tactics and work toward an immigration system that expands our prosperity while preserving the dignity of all.

This very powerful statement from African-American and Latino religious leaders was issued in advance of today’s House hearing on immigration issues.

Major anti-immigrant organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform are closely aligned with the Republican Members of Congress who are now in charge of immigration policy for the U.S. House of Representatives. In a series of hearings, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, Immigration Subcommittee Chair Elton Gallegly, and Immigration Subcommittee Vice-Chair Steve King are continuing their long history of blaming immigrants for issues from unemployment to pollution. To prove their case, they are calling key witnesses from within the anti-immigrant movement, disguising them as experts on the impact of immigration on U.S. workers.

Today, the leaders of the House Mass Deportation Caucus, Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Steve King (R-IA) and Lamer Smith (R-TX), have organized a hearing that they’ve disingenuously titled “Making Immigration Work for American Minorities.” That’s not what it’s about.

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