Anti-immigration laws are harmful to families, said Luis Zarama, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Atlanta, at a documentary screening of “Gospel Without Borders” at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in the Atlanta area.
“The immigration laws that we have here in Georgia … are affecting the dignity of the human person and affecting the structure of the family, destroying the family,” said Zarama, one of four panelists.
Undocumented immigrants have been in the United States “for years and years and years. And we were happy because we needed them – cheap labor … We used them,” said Zarama, a native of Columbia. “Now we are using these people again to blame them for what is wrong here in the States … It is easy to find someone else to blame for what is wrong today.”
He reminded attendees that Jesus had been an immigrant in Egypt when his parents sought to escape persecution.
Noting that he was moved by the documentary, panelist Timothy McDonald said, “I think it helps us to begin to wrestle with a number of myths that are associated with the issue of immigration.”
McDonald, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church, expanded on the documentary’s contrast between unjust and just laws.
“It was perfectly legal to treat women a certain way in this country before the women’s suffrage movement,” he said. “Women did not have the right to vote. It was perfectly legal and accepted in our country. Segregation was legal and accepted in our country. And it wasn’t until a group of people decided that enough is enough.
“What changed the rights of women was challenging public policy. What changed the rights of African-Americans was challenging public policy. What will change what is happening to our immigrant brothers and sisters is to challenge public policy,” said McDonald. “And there is no greater institution to challenge public policy than the church. We have the moral authority to do so.”
“The issue of immigration is the civil rights issue of the 21st century,” said McDonald.
The Atlanta pastor warned that “immigration is going to loom as a very big issue in next year’s election.”
Mimi Walker, pastor of Druid Hills Baptist Church, challenged audience members to add their voices to the immigration debate.
Moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, Walker said an ecumenical effort was needed.
Lesley Ediger, program manager for the Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Service of Atlanta, told participants that some countries have “undersubscribed” their visa allotments, which means citizens of those countries have a better chance of entering the United States with the right documents.
Other countries, such as Mexico, have “oversubscribed” visa allotments, which helps explain the near impossibility of Mexicans obtaining visas.
The screening and panel discussion at Smoke Rise Baptist Church was the sixth documentary screening held within the past month. Other screenings have been held in LittleRock, Ark.; Greensboro, Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.; and Lakeland, Fla.
The screening drew a racially, ethnically and religiously diverse crowd of some 80 people.