BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Since President Donald Trump's immigration policy gave law enforcement officials unprecedented power to aggressively target immigrants in the country illegally, the nation's immigrant communities have been living in fear, from the threat of arrest, detention and deportation.
Department of Homeland Security documents "revealed the broad scope of the president's ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations," The New York Times' Michael D. Shear and Ron Nixon reported late last month.
"The message is: The immigration law is back in business," said a gleeful Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports restricted immigration. "That violating immigration law is no longer a secondary offense."
One area where enhanced law enforcement appears to be having a profound effect is on church attendance. In a piece titled "Trump's Policies Are Keeping Hispanics Away from Church," Christianity Today's Kate Shellnutt reported that "America's Hispanic churches [are] feel[ing] the impact of President Donald Trump's immigration initiatives in their pews each week."
"These new guidelines create anxiety and concerns about the future of the members of our church and their families," the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance (HBPA), a coalition of Hispanic Southern Baptist pastors, recently stated.
"Pastorear en Tiempos de Trump es más difícil y duro de lo que imaginé. Orando, sirviendo, y trabajando por nuestras familias," Felix Cabrera, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City and a leader of the HBPA, recently tweeted. ("Pastoring in the time of Trump is more difficult and harder than I could have imagined. Praying, serving, and working for our families.")
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) and one of President Donald Trump's evangelical advisers, pointed out that "half of all Latino Christians living in the United States are worried that either they or someone close to them will be deported, the Pew Research Center found. This includes 1 in 3 of those born in the US."
According to the Pew Research Center data, more than 4 in 10 Latino Christians are worried that they and/or family members will be caught up in random immigration raids. In an earlier piece for Christianity Today, Shellnutt reported that "Hispanic Catholics (54%) and Protestants (47%) were more likely than the unaffiliated (38%) to say they worry 'a lot' or 'some' about the threat of deportation, Pew's survey of Hispanic adults living in the US found. One in four Protestants worry a lot (25%), while Catholics are significantly most likely to worry a lot (37%)."
One side affect of intensified immigration enforcement is that it has forced ministers and church workers to rethink their aid to immigrant communities. According to Shellnutt, "Some pastors and churches may be scared or confused over whether serving undocumented immigrants puts them on the wrong side of the law. Similar hesitancies came up when Alabama criminalized certain activities like offering rides to people in the country illegally. 'We're now facing new religious liberty concerns related to our churches' ability to minister to immigrants,' wrote Alabama pastor Alan Cross and NHCLC executive committee member Gus Reyes in an op-ed for Time.
Groups providing rides to immigrants and other services may be running afoul of the law. Trump's policies "not only target immigrants themselves, each of whom we believe is made in the image of God with inherent dignity regardless of their legal status, but also encroach upon religious institutions' ability to minister," wrote Cross and Reyes wrote.
Samuel Rodriguez has pointed out numerous times that immigrants presented an enormous opportunity for evangelicals to expand their outreach in the US. And, Rodriguez opined, drawing immigrants and Hispanics to evangelical churches, gave Republicans an opportunity to increase Hispanic electoral support for conservatives.