September 16, 2007

Latino Church Groups Lead Rally

Protesters criticize Georgia law, pray for federal solution

By S.A. REIDThe Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 09/17/07

Hundreds of Christian Latinos took to the streets of downtown Atlanta on Sunday in prayer and protest against a new Georgia law they say criminalizes undocumented immigrants.
Amid chants and song, they also demanded comprehensive federal immigration reform during their rally and march from the U.S. Court of Appeals to the state Capitol.

Holding Bibles, demonstrators chant 'viva Jesus, viva Jesus' at the state Capitol on Sunday. 'We need true immigration reform,' a spokesman said.

The protesters — many legal residents and most toting Bibles and young children — came from across Georgia to send what they hope will be a powerful, spirit-filled message that a change must come at the federal level and not through states and local governments, whose politicians they say are using the immigration issue for political gain.

By doing so, states and municipalities usurp the federal government's constitutional authority to shape the nation's immigration policy, critics said.

The Washington-based National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Church Leaders and the Association of Latino Pastors of Georgia, its local affiliate, led the prayer rally.
The evangelical advocacy organization represents more than 20,000 churches in 33 states, according to the Rev. Miguel Rivera, coalition president and founder.

Similar protests have been held across the country amid the national debate on comprehensive immigration reform.

"We're sending a message that we need true immigration reform that addresses the plight of 12 million and their children," said lawyer William Sanchez, a coalition lawyer. "What's happened in Georgia is just a reflection of the lack of action by the federal government."

The groups plan to submit paperwork during next few months challenging the constitutionality of restrictive, state-imposed laws that have surfaced in places such as Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Georgia.

Georgia's SB 529 raises the bar on identification requirements in employment, public benefits and pay to contractors. It also prohibits in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and requires jailers to check the legal status of those charged with DUI or a felony and notify federal authorities of suspected illegal immigrants.

Critics say Georgia's law and others like it make Latinos targets of racial profiling and other acts of discrimination.

"We're hoping to stop 529. The law criminalizes every undocumented immigrant," said Antonio Mansogo, association president affiliated with Doraville's Central Pentecostal Ministry. "What you can see is that these people are not criminals. Everybody is holding a Bible, reflecting that they have the same faith and values as the American people."

Living in the United States without proper documentation, Sanchez said, violates civil laws, but not criminal ones.

Rivera, coalition president and founder, described Georgia's new law frivolous and insulting to Latinos who, he said, pay taxes like everyone else.

Latino pastors and their members, he added, are fed up. Added Rivera: "We cannot tolerate these types of laws."

Nearly half the estimated 700,000 Hispanics in Georgia are undocumented, experts say.

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