In America's Heartland, church leaders support immigrant rights

I'm in Oklahoma, a state that passed an anti-immigration law in 2007 and is proposing new ones that target undocumented immigrants and the people who would help them.

I'm here with a group of journalists for a reporting fellowship called Immigration in the Heartland.

We met Sunday with church leaders and immigrants in Oklahoma City. I was struck by some of the church leaders and parishioners who support immigration reform and they are not Hispanic but white.

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Pastor Robin Meyers

The two pastors at Mayflower United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, Robin Meyers and Chris Moore, said they support a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Part of the argument is based on religious grounds.

"One could argue that Jesus was as close to a refugee that we'll get," Meyers said.

And they said that their Protestant faith instructs them to help those in need, especially the undocumented, even if that means violating a state law.

He said if the state says you can't pick up a hitchhiker or feed a person who may be undocumented, then "that's a law that has to be broken."

"I don't think most courts in Oklahoma will put the slammer on a church
that says we're following a higher law in protecting these people,"
Pastor Meyers said. "In the meantime, if human beings are being
mistreated and all they are asking is to be treated with respect and
they come to church to find that respect and to find shelter, I think
churches ought to provide that."

Pastor Moore said Latino immigrants are just the latest scapegoats.

"Yeah, I'm white middle America. I live in Edmond for crying out loud, in a suburb. But my last name is also Moore. One hundred years ago this was me. The immigrants coming in were me. And the persecution was just as strong if not stronger," he said.

Meyers said the country relies on undocumented immigrant labor and but does not want to integrate them into society. He described a recent hail storm that caused major damage in Oklahoma City and that most of the crews who built the new roofs were made up of Hispanic laborers.

"You know among them there were illegals," Meyers said. "We all took our new roofs and we marveled at their work ethic... And then when the sun goes down we want them to just disappear."

But he said his faith can't support that attitude.

Diane Wigley, 66, a parishioner at St. Monica's Catholic Church in Edmond, agreed. She argued that we need immigrant labor and tax contributions to help the Baby Boomers.

"We need the immigrants," said Wigley, who worked as a CPA and a CFO for 26 years. "...We want them to have good jobs that pay lots and pay lots into Social Security."

Wigley said at her church they have a growing Hispanic population and they offer a Spanish-language mass. They are working to build bridges between the two communities.

Rev. Tim Luschen, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Oklahoma City, said that Catholic church leaders have spoken out against anti-immigration laws like HB 1804.

"(There are) laws that are at conflict with what we believe to be God's laws," he said.

For full disclosure, I am on a funded fellowship organized by the Institute for Justice and Journalism in partnership with the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and its Institute for Research and Training. It is funded by a grant from the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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  • I was proud to participate in the Oklahoma Sponsoring Committee's effort to provide this session for the journalists. -- Dianne Wigley

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