The Evangelical Immigration Table made an effort to push immigration reform back into the forefront of debate Saturday as they brought out fifteen speakers to speak on the issue from a Biblical perspective. The event was held in conjunction with the annual Easter parade put on by local Evangelical churches in the Tampa Bay area and hoped to encourage both Congress and those who oppose reform to look towards religious ideals and “welcome the stranger”.
“We believe that as Christians we have a moral responsibility to protect our families, protect their immediate families, protect their God-given dignity, that's what we're here to support,” said Augustin Quiles, Director of Community Engagement for the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, on the event and group's purpose. “A lot of families, a lot of teenage girls are being exposed to human trafficking, sex trafficking because of the broken system. A main target of criminals are girls that are undocumented … on an everyday basis I deal with undocumented children that have no fault being here and now they're being separated from their parents. That happens every day for families, they're being separated, there's a lot of pain … we need a common-sense immigration reform. We ask our congressmen to see this as a moral thing to do, as the right thing to do.”
While morning rain delayed the start of the parade and literally put a damper on things, Quiles expected more than ten parishes, some with congregations more than 1000 strong, to participate. This included the Reverends David and Ada Rivera, whose Iglesia De Dios Pentacostal Church brought one of the larger contingents.
“We believe in legalization, don't get me wrong. We also believe in securing the borders, but the people that are here are already here,” said David Rivera. “So we're not trying to bring people from other countries, but the people that are here should be legalized, so they can be constructive citizens.”
“There's about 11 million people undocumented,” added Ada. “Don't you think if they could legally get, if they could pay taxes, that it would benefit the economy? We've got to think of everything, not just that they're here undocumented.”
While a vast majority of those present had roots in Latin America, Quiles felt that the Evangelical Immigration Table's message transcends any type of ethnic background and instead forces those with reservations to see things from the perspective of their religious beliefs. With many of the oppositional Florida congressmen sharing Quiles' Evangelical background, there exists a common ground.
“Here's a statistic that says the vast majority of Americans are for immigration reform, especially residents that are in conservative districts. Most conservative districts that are here in Florida, that are represented by Republican congressmen, they are Evangelicals. The statistics say that there is enough support from the Evangelical church for immigration reform. It is reaching, but it's not reaching enough. Jeb Bush just wrote an article about welcoming a stranger, because they're motivated to come here out of love. There is famine, there is hunger, so they have to make a decision of what do we do. There are a lot of politicians that are involved. There are some that are not, but we as the Evangelical church is praying that somehow, they will understand this is a Christian thing to do, it is a moral thing to do and it's the right thing to do. It's common sense.”