IN JUNE, Esperanza USA, a national network of Hispanic ministries and churches, sponsored its fifth annual National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington. The breakfast, which focused on immigration reform, was attended by President Bush as well as several prominent leaders from the Democratic Party. I spoke to the head of Esperanza USA, the Rev. Luis Cortes Jr.
In working on immigration reform, yon have brought a diverse group of people to the table. How do you get such different people to talk to each other?
What brings us together is the color brown under the lordship of Christ. Esperanza has biblical, defensible positions, but we do not get involved in the left-right debate. We are a hybrid community. Government and the press keep trying to define us as left or right. They don't think that brown can stand alone.
In your mind, what are the key elements of immigration reform?
The key element of reform is that it be comprehensive. The notion that we could emphasize border security without addressing the whole situation is absurd.
Our organization does not have a problem with border security. The U.S. is a sovereign nation. If we want to protect our borders, then Citizenship and Immigration Services and Homeland Security need to hire enough people to do it and train them well. I, for one, don't want untrained civilians running around with guns. We can create government jobs for highly trained people who can give water to the person they find in the desert and then escort that person back to his or her home country. If that's the national will, let's do it.
But there are 15 million individuals who provide this nation with work who are living in fear. I speak around the country at churches, especially in border states. When I am speaking I remind the congregation of the jobs that illegal immigrants are doing in this country--jobs like that of dishwasher and hotel cleaner. People realize that they don't want to do those jobs themselves and don't want their children to do them--though it is legitimate, necessary and honorable work.
Your organization has worked on a large number of issues related to Hispanic life over two decades. …