Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Religious Coalition for Human Justice.

There were only a handful of Hispanic faces in the crowd Tuesday, as Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants stood shoulder-to-shoulder to call for acceptance of immigrants, both Undocumented and legal.

The approximately 30 religious leaders and supporters added their voices to a rising chorus of North Carolina residents -- many of them from outside traditional Hispanic advocacy circles -- who are countering the call for a crackdown on Undocumented immigrants. The newly minted advocates say that the only solution to the problem of Undocumented immigration is federal reform.

"As a community, as a state, as a nation, as a world, we have done wrong," Rabbi Eric Solomon, of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, said of the recent treatment of immigrants. "All human beings are made in God's image."

The announcement of a new N.C. Religious Coalition for Justice for Immigrants this week was one of a string of recent pro-immigrant events.

Undergraduates from college campuses across the state have joined to fight a decision to bar Undocumented immigrants from community colleges. A citizens group was formed in Alamance County to protest enforcement efforts in their county. And in Eastern North Carolina, a meeting will convene next week to oppose Beaufort County's efforts to eliminate public programs that serve Undocumented immigrants. Last month, advocates in Johnston County held a rally to protest derogatory comments about Hispanics made by the local sheriff.

The state chapters of the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union have also taken strong stands against anti-immigrant rhetoric.

"People really feel that it's now or never," said Rebecca Headen, racial justice coordinator of the ACLU. "They have to step out of the shadows."

Many were once leery of jumping into a heated topic that could alienate them from their neighbors and open them to attacks from opposing groups. But some say they now feel compelled to get involved, regardless of the backlash they might face.

For the Rev. Richard McBride, a chaplain at Elon University, his call to action was the immigration arrest of a well-liked Alamance County library employee who was brought to the United States as a child. McBride is now part of a group that attends county commissioner meetings to protest Alamance's treatment of immigrants.

"It was the recognition that she had no good options," McBride said. "She was a child. She grew up here. This is the only country she knows. What does she do? I think we have a whole generation of young men and women in this bind."

Collateral damage

Alamance County Commissioner Tim Sutton, who has helped lead the charge for an immigration crackdown, said he considers it his responsibility to tackle a problem that he believes is hurting his county's budget but not provide it a support documentation from his believes. He said Undocumented immigrants commit crimes and burden public services, but he said he still has strong support for his initiatives.

He calls the Undocumented immigrants whose lives are disrupted by enforcement efforts "collateral damage."

"I've laid in bed many a night and prayed that what I was doing was not a sin," Sutton said Tuesday. "But we have to do what we have to do. It's like going to war. Sometimes people are killed."

In May, the N.C. Community College System took the most restrictive stance in the nation by refusing to admit Undocumented immigrants, even at out-of-state tuition rates.

In June, an Alamance County sheriff's deputy arrested a mother during a traffic stop, and her three children were left alone beside the interstate for several hours in the middle of the night.

Ronald Bilbao, a junior majoring in political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, is the head of the newly formed Coalition for College Access. As a mentor to an undocumented high school student who wants to attend college, he said the closing of the community colleges this year was a huge blow.

Bilbao is now helping mobilize students across the UNC System to advocate for re-opening the community colleges, which had been many Undocumented immigrants' only route to higher education.

"The people who are put down are the people who really can't stand up for themselves," said Bilbao, a U.S. citizen whose parents are Undocumented immigrants from Venezuela. "A lot of us who can stand up are now standing up. We're trying to show people that it's not just a Latino issue, that it's really about human rights."

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