Immigration Reform Supported by Covenant Hispanic Leaders

Post a Comment » Written on April 18th, 2006     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (April 18, 2006) – Officers in the Hispanic ministries organization of the Evangelical Covenant Church have endorsed a letter calling for immigration reform that includes securing borders and giving current undocumented workers the opportunity to apply for citizenship.

“We cannot be absent in such a time as this,” says Walter Contreras, coordinator of Ministerios Hispanos de la Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico (MHIPE) .

Last month, Esperanza USA, a faith-based Hispanic organization, issued an open letter to evangelical leaders addressing comprehensive immigration reform. The letter raises theological issues and then lists broad principles for reform that closely parallel a bill recently passed in the U.S. Senate.

In addition to calling for secure borders, the letter states, “Legislative attempts to criminalize routine acts of mercy, compassion, spiritual counsel, and humanitarian aid are unchristian.” A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last December would make illegal immigration and assistance to illegal immigrants a felony class offense.

“You can’t criminalize people,” Contreras says.

The document also opposes amnesty, but supports “a probation period for those who entered illegally, but wish to stay in the United States.” The probation would apply to immigrants who have broken only immigration laws. Workers also would be required to pay fines for having broken the immigration laws. Following the probationary period, they “would then be allowed to wait behind those already in application for residency and, if desirable, citizenship.”

Supporting the document is important, Contreras says, because many pastors are unaware of the issues. “We need to communicate and inform our people.”

The Covenant has nearly 50 Hispanic churches and the number continues to grow, notes Contreras, who also is the director of church planting for the Pacific Southwest Conference. Many of the pastors serve undocumented residents, he adds.

“These churches are part of the mission,” Contreras says. “They give their tithe. They are contributing. They are family.”

Contreras hopes Covenant churches will help promote the ideals of the Esperanza document as part of its commitment to the marginalized. “One of the reasons I joined the Covenant was because I discerned the Covenant has a heart for the immigrant,” he says.

Immigration has become a prominent part of discussions involving Covenant denominational leaders as well, including President Glenn Palmberg.

“Our response to these issues must be guided by our Christian commitment to Jesus’ concern for justice and compassion to people in need,” Palmberg says. “Obviously there are differences of opinion on some of the details surrounding the issue of immigration; however, compassion and justice remain as basic tenets of our faith that must help shape our response.”

Contreras says supporting Hispanic Covenanters includes becoming involved even at a basic level. “We want to make sure that people of the Covenant pray about this,” he explains.

MHIPE anticipates that more than 40 Covenant pastors and other leaders will attend the 2006 National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference June 6-8 in Washington, D.C. Participants will meet with their congressional representatives and attend workshops. Roughly 1,000 ministers overall are expected to participate.

Luis Cortez, president of Esperanza, is one of the featured speakers at the Pacific Southwest Conference Celebration in Modesto, California, this week. He also will participate in a special session on immigration issues.

To learn more about Esperanza USA and the prayer breakfast and conference, please see Esperanza. To read the open letter and the guiding principles, select the “Faith in Action” link on the Esperanza page and click on the desired documents.

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