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Photo via Calvario Church/Facebook
Omar Johnson is an Associate Pastor at Calvario City Church in Orlando.
As Christian pastors, before all else, we serve God. But that doesn’t mean our work is done once Sunday services are over. Jesus has called us — as He calls all of us — to share the Gospel and to serve others, especially those among us who live on the margins of our society. At times, this call requires fighting for these neighbors, and being their voice.
This is such a time.
The immigrant community in Florida is facing an unprecedented attack on our ability to live, work and take care of our families. Gov. DeSantis has proposed, and the Florida State Legislature is considering, a package of bills [SB1718
] that will harm the immigrant community by placing unnecessary and cruel obstacles to participation in nearly every part of daily life.
The proposed package has many harmful aspects, with one hitting especially hard and close to home for pastors. The bills would criminalize anyone — immigrant or not — that transports or harbors someone who is undocumented. This means that anytime we take a student to Bible school or a parent to work or the supermarket, we risk being charged with a second or third degree felony — and the charge applies for each person in our car or church van.
One in five Floridian residents is an immigrant. Hundreds of thousands of Floridians live with someone in their home who, if this proposal is passed, will put them at risk of a felony. This proposal will break up families, with consequences for the entire community. It will also negatively impact businesses that are already desperate for workers, with financial repercussions for Floridians across the state.
This proposal also forces hospitals to collect data and report to the state on the immigration status of their patients. This is being presented by legislative sponsors as simply data collection. But here is the reality: This part of the package is a very real and dangerous threat to the lives and health of immigrants in our community who will be even more fearful to seek emergency and other care.
These measures are not necessary, except perhaps to serve a political end. They are an outrageous and immoral attempt to create chaos in our community as a way to stop our ministry to immigrant families in our churches and neighborhoods.
Our elected leaders need to hear and see that their attack on us won’t work. Throughout history, the Latino Church has experienced persecution. But we have always grown stronger because we have stood firm in our calling to share the Gospel and to serve others. This is true for many people who have suffered affliction doing God’s work. We are not alone in this fight. Leaders and people of other faiths stand with us, and we welcome their support and partnership for our immigrant families.
Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth.” The Church is the salt used to save souls and to preserve and protect our communities. We can’t protect our community if we don’t fight for them. Bishops, pastors, ministry leaders and congregants gathered this week in Tallahassee to invoke God’s presence and express our radical love for the immigrants in our churches and communities. We will continue to speak up and we hope you will join us in praying for, and fighting for, our Florida families.
Omar Johnson is an Associate Pastor at Calvario City Church. He lives in Kissimmee. Ricardo Cortijo is the Senior Lead Pastor of Iglesia La Viña in DeLand, Florida. He lives in Sanford.