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Two Baptists leaders added their voices to endorse today’s “Day Without An Immigrant” boycott to demonstrate how vital immigrant workers are to the economy of the United States.

Protest organizers asked immigrants across the country to skip work, school and even shopping on Monday May 1. Protestors who cannot miss work will show up at their jobs wearing white T-shirts or arm bands.

The demonstration coincides with International Workers Day, popularly known as May Day, which is celebrated in most countries but not the United States.

Labeled No Work, No School, No Sales, and No Buying, organizers hope it will show enough numerical and economic strength to pressure Congress into passing comprehensive immigration reform.

There are an estimated 12 million undocumented or illegal immigrants in the U.S. Most are from Latin America, and particularly Mexico.

Christian groups are divided over immigration. Some advocate reaching out to undocumented workers with compassion. Others–anxious about cultural change and inflamed by use of the term “illegal” aliens–support stronger border controls.

African-American church leaders in Oakland, Calif., voiced support for A Day Without Immigrants last week.

“We want it understood this is not a divide-and-conquer issue where we will stand against our immigrant sisters and brothers under the false illusion they’re taking jobs from us,” J. Alfred Smith, senior pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif., said in Friday’s Oakland Tribune. “We exploit these people by making them work at a subhuman wage and then throwing them away when we’re done with them like tissue paper.”

Jim Hopkins, newly elected president of the Alliance of Baptists, and Executive Director Stan Hastey issued a joint statement inviting Alliance members and affiliated congregations to discuss immigrants and their needs in Sunday school and worship services last weekend.

“Few public debates have fueled so much heat and shed so little light as that of immigration reform,” Hopkins and Hastey said. “We ask Alliance people to consider the issue prayerfully and in the spirit of Jesus. This is a time for the ancient gift of Christian hospitality to be offered generously and graciously.”

Hopkins is pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif. The nation’s most-populous state, California also has the highest percentage of immigrants–35 percent. California’s State Senate endorsed the May 1 boycott in a vote last Thursday.

The Day Without an Immigrant Coalition supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes:

–A means for the undocumented to earn legal status and citizenship.
–A legal way for new workers to pursue happiness without risking lives in the desert or sea and be protected by labor laws once they are here.
–Removal of delays that keep family members apart for years.
–Targeted and effective enforcement that respects humanity and liberty of expression.

Present immigration laws, they say, would not have permitted entrance to the parents and grandparents of millions of successful American citizens. Current laws, they say, keep families separated, lead to dangerous border crossings and leave those without documents “in the shadows of America.”

Current labor needs, meanwhile, “tacitly encourage our presence,” while denying many legal and civil rights.”

Scheduling the boycott on May 1 is reportedly coincidental, but a number of immigrants came from countries where International Workers’ Day is a major celebration.

Ironically, May Day originated in the United States. It commemorates the 1886 Haymarket riots in Chicago, when police fired on unarmed workers at the McCormick Reaper Works striking for an eight-hour day. Six workers were killed and many others wounded, setting off worker protests across the nation.

May Day spread to other countries and came to also be called International Workers’ Day. It was a major holiday in communist countries during the Cold War, including the Soviet Union, marked by large military parades.

Such showings of common people supporting communist governments marred its appeal as a mass holiday in the U.S., which celebrates its own Labor Day in September. But International Workers’ Day is still recognized in every country except the United States, Canada and South Africa.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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