Arizona daily star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/124263
Ernesto Portillo Jr.
The Roman Catholic Church has been a leading force in the push for comprehensive immigration reform. But evangelical Latinos, while less visible, have been equally insistent.
Spurred by the Bible, which asks for compassion toward strangers, they joined thousands of Tucsonans in Monday's march for immigration reform.
Though conservative on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, on immigration reform there are no liberal or conservative positions for evangelical Latinos.
There is only this: a fair path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"We want to work legally," said Armando Escarcega, who installs flooring.
Armando and Roselia Escarcega and their two preteen children paraded into Armory Park with thousands of others in Monday's national day of action.
Their friend, Sonia Coronado, carried an American flag with the Spanish words, "Soy un apasionado de Cristo" or "I am a passion of Christ."
The flag came from their small evangelical Latino church, Iglesia Apostolica de la Fe on South Park Avenue, one of 50 Latino churches whose congregants participated in the march.
While the Escarcegas are legal residents, some of their fellow worshippers are undocumented. The Escarcegas fear the lives of many undocumented immigrants would be torn asunder under a proposed immigration bill passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. House.
The bill does not offer earned legalization to an estimated 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
The Rev. Tirso Rubin, who spoke at the Downtown rally attended by nearly 15,000 people, said afterward that evangelical Latinos want the federal government to give undocumented immigrants a chance to participate fully in American society.
"The churches want citizenship for the people. We're all immigrants," said Rubin, a Mexican immigrant and a lawyer, who heads Iglesia de Dios, a congregation of nearly 200 people.
In an April 4 letter to President Bush and the U.S. Senate, an association of evangelical Christians, including non-Latinos, asked for a fair and reasonable immigration bill.
"We support comprehensive immigration reform, based on Biblical mandates, our Christian faith and values, and our commitment to civil and human rights. We value immigrants as human beings, made in the image of God," said the letter, signed by 66 evangelical groups and pastors.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which represents about 15 million evangelical Christians nationwide, signed the letter. Rodriguez, an Assembly of God minister in Sacramento, Calif., said immigration is an issue of family values.
But like the country and Congress, evangelical Christians are divided over immigration. The National Association of Evangelicals did not sign the letter.
Rodriguez said the GOPcould alienate evangelical Latino voters, who largely vote Republican.
In 1994 in California, Republicans pushed for a ban on health care and education for undocumented immigrants, which a federal judge later struck down as unconstitutional. But the state's Republican Party lost significant support from Latino voters and has yet to recover.
In the 2004 presidential race, Bush earned the support of 41 percent of Latino voters, an increase of 6 percent from the 2000 election. However, future support for GOP presidential candidates could hinge on what kind of immigration bill comes out, said Rodriguez.
"Let's protect our borders, but we're not in favor of deporting and splitting up families," he said.
● Ernesto Portillo Jr.'s column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach him at 573-4242 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He appears on "Arizona Illustrated," KUAT-TV Channel 6, at 6:30 p.m. and midnight Fridays.