A Catholic priest told an ecumenical gathering at the First Baptist Church of Raleigh, N.C., for a screening of the documentary “Gospel Without Borders” that his faith tradition’s social teachings call for a good government to welcome the stranger and secure its borders for the common good.
“The first principle in the social teachings is that people have the right to move to other places to protect their life and the life of their family. This is a basic right,” said Carlos Arce, vicar for Hispanics in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh. “Second, a country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration. These controls … must be applied with justice, in human good and compassion.”
Arce was one of three panelists who spoke after a screening of the EthicsDaily.com documentary that presents a biblical rationale for welcoming strangers and debunks several misperceptions about immigration.
Other panelists included Carol Goehring, executive director of Connectional Ministries in the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, and Hector Villanueva, pastor of Iglesia Bautista La Roca in Siler City, N.C., who was featured in the documentary.
The Raleigh event was the third documentary screening sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.
Villanueva gave his firsthand account of nearly being deported because of a 15-year-old crime for which he had already served a sentence.
Villanueva came to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was 3 years old and acquired legal permanent residency due to a 1986 immigration reform law.
In the mid-1990s, however, he became addicted to drugs and was arrested for trying to cash someone else’s check. He served 16 months in prison, became a Christian and was later ordained.
He moved to North Carolina with his wife and children to start a church in Chatham County, which has a large Hispanic population.
But in August 2010 he was arrested after applying for U.S. citizenship. The routine background check for citizenship uncovered the crime, and he was threatened with deportation to Mexico.
A judge ruled in Villanueva’s favor last month, but the criminal record keeps him from becoming a citizen. He said to gain citizenship he will need a pardon from the governor of California, where the crime was committed.
“I want that right,” said Villanueva. “I want to be able to vote.”
Villanueva told stories of how police officers in his area hold license checks on the only road going to a neighborhood where immigrants live.
Yet no checks were made at a chicken processing plant where many Hispanics worked before it closed, he said.
“The people in the community don’t want immigrants, yet they hire them,” he said.
He said that undocumented workers cannot easily get legal status.
Acre said many immigrants want legal status, but don’t have an “open window” to obtain it.
“The only way is to work for comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “This broken system is a real business for some people.”
“The people you see in the documentary are not far from you,” said Arce. “They are behind you. They are among you.”
Goehring said churches could host “know your rights” seminars that teach immigrants how to navigate the legal system in the United States. Law students can often teach the workshops, she said.
Robert Parham, co-producer of the documentary and executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, moderated the discussion with an audience of mostly Baptists, Catholics and Methodists.
People of faith should still work for change, even if it’s incremental, Parham said. For example, people should use the phrase “undocumented worker,” instead of illegal immigrant.
Churches also could show the 31-minute version of the documentary to their congregations and use a longer version over several weeks in Sunday school classes, Parham said.
Parham noted that several churches are located around the North Carolina state capitol, and he suggested a copy of the DVD be given to each state legislator.
Steve Devane is a North Carolina reporter who was formerly on the staff of the Biblical Recorder.