Rev. Luis Cortés Jr. Speaks on Immigration Reform

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Hispanic Evangelicals Weigh-In On Immigration Debate, by Rev. Luis Cortés Jr. 

As the immigration debate heats up once again in Congress, among the clamor about border protection and migrant rights, the sanctity of the family should remain paramount in our dialogue. The tensions that have risen over the past month should not scuttle recent and real movement towards a solution.

This country is facing two phenomena: A growing interest and even frustration in border states across the country regarding border protections, which is compounded by the fact that the Hispanic population has grown to become the second-largest ethnic group in the U.S. and an increasingly important voter base.

And, despite popular belief, we do not have to pick a side.

Nearly 20 years ago, I sat with then-Texas governor and Republican nominee George W. Bush to discuss immigration reform — and I have met with dozens of elected leaders over the years since then, including President Barack Obama, for whom I served on an immigration advisory committee.

While the challenge to achieve reform remains, the dynamics have evolved. Hispanics make up the fastest-growing group in the evangelical community, with a passion for issues such as family values and social justice that don’t always adhere to traditional party lines.

Hispanic evangelicals are carving out a necessary voice to help usher in bipartisan agreement. It is this hope that will serve as the setting for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) next week at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, where hundreds of Hispanic faith and community leaders from nearly 30 states will gather together to advocate on behalf of our families, our neighbors and our communities.

As evangelical Christians and people of faith, we believe that God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society. We also believe in honoring the rule of law and that every sovereign nation has the right to secure its borders.

We believe these multiple concerns can be addressed without debasing human empathy and the fundamental value of human life. We have faith that the Trump administration and Congress can come to an agreement on that.

Most would agree that the trauma of forced separation from loved ones can have long-lasting and unwanted effects on society — particularly separating young children from their parents as they cross our border. Similarly, it is this common human empathy that has caused the plight of DREAMERS — victims of illegal immigration who migrated to the United States as children  — to resonate with people from all walks of life despite political ideology.

If we are to believe that the path towards solutions starts where we agree, and that multiple polls show that the majority of Americans support legal status for DREAMERS and preventing young children from being separated from their parents, then immigration reform should start with protecting families.

As conversations continue and legislation is finalized, we hope our political leaders steer away from forced removal as an answer to visa overstays (people who entered the country legally but have stayed beyond their visa expiration).

Many of these people are subjected to a complicated and convoluted immigration visa system that they do not understand and do not have the thousands of dollars needed to pay in legal fees. Visa overstays are often the result of years of navigating complicated regulations, process delays, and predatory attorney’s fees, in a good faith effort to remain in good standing.

Again, human empathy and recognition of these complicated realities must prevail, as we engage with honesty and sincerity around solutions that will maximize our country’s prosperity and well-being.

In the coming weeks, the Hispanic faith community will continue to use our voices to advocate in Washington and in our respective home communities. We place our faith in the Executive branch and in Congress to step beyond their political disagreements to secure the DREAMERS and the border; to keep young children with their parents; to focus on future opportunities instead of past disagreements; and to strengthen our nation and our democracy.

Rev. Luis Cortés Jr. is the founder, president and CEO of Esperanza, which is the premier Hispanic faith-based network in the country. Esperanza’s network is over 14,000 Hispanic congregations and community non-profits — from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal.

OP-ED Featured in:
The Hill- Hispanic evangelicals are using their voices to fight for immigration reform