IFPS Conference 2018 – Immigration: Balancing Compassion, Security, and Jobs

We Are All Immigrants

I recently attended a program, “Institute for Faith and the Public Square” (IFPS) at the New Orleans Theological Baptist Seminary, Leavell Chapel.

IFPS is known for tackling many current theological, legal, and philosophical topics with programs on race, sexuality, et al. The event I attended IFPS Conference 2018 – Immigration: Balancing Compassion, Security, and Jobs.

Five speakers were featured, including the host of this event, Dr. Lloyd A. Harsch, Professor of Church History and Studies. Other speakers included G. Benjamin Johnson, President of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce; Elaine Dorothy Kimbrell, Managing Partner of Ware Immigration; Pastor Tony Suarez, Vice President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference-Conela; Noel Castellano, CEO and President of the Christian Community Development Corporation (CCDA).

With a symbol of Christ rising behind the altar, Dr. Harsch introduced himself and began the discussion. “It’s good to have you as part of the discussion… Too oftentimes we’ve been shouting at each other, rather than actually talking with each other. Particularly on issues that can be divisive and complex.”

He added, “This is a personal issue for me. I am a first generation immigrant. My father emigrated here, got a green card, and became a citizen.” His mother’s side of the family arrived in the 1600s. He also has a son who was born overseas and was adopted by the Harsch family.

Chamber of Commerce President G. Benjamin Johnson cited a personal and professional interest. He, too, has adopted children from other countries. He explained that immigration is often discussed as, “a political interest that undermines the US Economy… Every business group I talk to, small, midsize or large, workforce is their number one issue. They cannot find the skilled force they need to operate their businesses.” He contradicted those who claim immigrants steal jobs, “Many of the immigrants they hired, they couldn’t find someone else to do the job.”

Johnson also cited what he views as myths regarding immigrants. He referenced several reports from both conservative and liberal publications. His conclusion: “Immigrants significantly benefit the US economy, by creating new jobs that complement the skills of the native-born US workforce, with a net positive impact on wage rates overall.”

According to Johnson, “Myth 1: Jobs filled by immigrants are jobs that could be filled by unemployed Americans. Fact: Immigrants do not typically compete for jobs with native-born workers. They create jobs.” Citing “The Kaufman Report,” he said, “Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born citizen to become entrepreneurs.” Myth 2: “Immigrants come to the United States for welfare benefits. Fact: “Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal public benefit programs.”

It was Elaine Dorothy Kimbrell’s turn to speak. Her organization, Ware Immigration, seeks to help clients fulfill their dreams of coming to the U.S.

“Green Card holders come to live and work in the United States permanently. Although they are ‘allegedly permanent residents’ they can lose their status,” depending on criminal behavior, or spending too long outside the country. “There are basically six ways to become a permanent resident in the United States,” she said. “We will see that in some cases this will take a very long time.” Possible ways include familial, “…spouse of a US Citizen, the child of a US citizen, the spouse of a permanent resident, the unmarried adult child of a permanent resident…” But for some immigrants, there is a backlog of people waiting all the way to 1997.

Other ways include seeking asylum and being sponsored by a company. Kimbrell pointed out that the last time we had immigration reform was in 2000. “Since then there have been several attempts to move forward, however, they have all failed.” Also, she said, there’s always something called an “investor green card.” Typically an investment of at least $1 million will get you in the US. “We have also heard that they would like to move to a more merit-based system. So in that system points would be given to more educated people.”

One of the hottest topics right now involves, “The Sensitive Location Policy.” “The Sensitive Location policy was announced in October of 2011, to cover enforcement actions including arrests, interviews, and searches for purposes of immigration surveillance enforcement only. And this location policy was basically created to ensure these actions don’t take place at sensitive locations, like churches, hospitals, or schools.” Along with weddings, this policy, “It also covers protests and things of that nature.”

Pastor Tony Suarez spoke passionately about being the son of immigrants. “I grew up in this bilingual culture, always assuming all of us were the same… but in our youth group, there were some people who got licenses, and some who could not. There were some when legal issues did arise had different needs and different attorneys than other people in our churches. I started to become aware what this concept of immigration was, and citizenship or the lack thereof.” He continued, “I ended up ministering at a church in Virginia, and of the 250 something people we baptized, 67 percent were undocumented immigrants.”

It was a Monday after Sunday service. “God had moved, people had given their lives to the Lord, and then that Monday around 6:30 in the morning, my lead usher calls me, and says, ‘Pastor I need your help, right now… they’re here, immigration is here.” As the immigrants were loaded into a van, he rushed the police. “By the way, don’t ever rush the police.” He came as close as he could until an officer stopped him, “Who do you think you are?”
Suarez responded, “Don’t worry, I’m their pastor.” The officer replied, “Wrong, you were their pastor.”

After they took his congregation, he says he went from talking to praying, to throwing himself into immigration reform. Of those taken away, his ushers, his flock, “…I got all of them back.” People applauded. “We stood up to the system if you will.”

“It’s one of the reasons I’m here today. To implore you, with the mercies of God, if you will, since this is a seminary, to encourage you as citizens, if you are passionate about this, don’t be silent. As my mentor says, ’Silence is not an option.’ Speak out, speak loud, keep the pressure on and I hope soon, we will finally see immigration reform done in this country.”

Noel Castellano spoke next. “Mexican American, born on the border but for some reason, I was born three miles in the border, and for that little piece of real estate, my whole life is different.”

“Many of you have heard that during the Civil Rights Movement there were signs that said, ‘No blacks allowed’ in restaurants… those same signs were there for Mexicans.” And yet, he explained, that has never stopped us from enjoying the illegal fruits of others’ labor. “We, the American public, don’t care how the food gets to our tables, we just want it to be cheap.”

“By some estimates between 50 and 70 percent of all farm workers are here undocumented. And everybody knows it. And yet we find a way to maintain a system that keeps down a permanent class of people. No rights, no ability to protest if there’s some kind of problem…” By turns informative, spirited and moving, it was an evening well-spent for those genuinely interested in the subject of immigration.

Christian Community Development Association
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference-Conela National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference – NHCLC
Tony Suarez 
Institute for Faith and the Public Square 
Ware Immigration

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