By Victor Ochieng
Several churches, especially those that are predominantly Hispanic, are feeling the heat of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
According to several news sources, many immigrants choose to stay at home rather than go to church over fears that they may end up being arrested on their way. Pastors have now found themselves preaching about fear to many Latino families who are not sure of their future in the United States. The pastors are forced to explain to small children what happens when Mom and Dad are sent packing and they’re left to stay with their relatives.
“Pastoring in the time of Trump is more difficult and harder than I could have imagined. Praying, serving, and working for our families,” reads a translation of a tweet by Felix Cabrera, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, who also doubles up as leader of the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance (HBPA).
A February statement by the Department of Homeland Security made it clear that Trump’s new immigration policies do away with exemptions initially enjoyed by illegal residents, thus putting more undocumented residents on the verge of being arrested, detained and deported to their countries of origin.
After the announcement, fear gripped many churches, says Matthew Soerens, who serves at World Relief as Director of Church Mobilization.
“These new guidelines create anxiety and concerns about the future of the members of our church and their families,” the HBPA, a coalition of Hispanic Southern Baptist pastors, said earlier this month. “As an alliance of churches, we are doing our part guiding our members through this challenging time by helping them understand their citizenship is in heaven.”
In a recent report released by the Pew Research Center, 50% of Latino Christians in the U.S. fear that either themselves or someone close to them might end up being a victim of the new regulations. This includes 1 out of 3 persons born in the U.S., as well as Puerto Rico.
The most worried among the Latino Christians are holders of Green Cards at 71%, while the worried among undocumented immigrants stand at 68%. The fear is so widespread that even Hispanic Christians (55%) who, although born outside the country, have become U.S. citizens, still fear that either they or someone close to them might end up being deported.
Soerens said World Relief and the churches it partners with “are fielding many, many inquiries from distressed immigrants who have seen news reports about changing immigration enforcement priorities and of deportations of undocumented people with no criminal convictions.” He noted that “Many are very afraid for themselves and their children.”
The worry is so serious that 38% of Hispanic Americans born in the U.S., including Puerto Rico, are also concerned about the new immigration plan.