Raleigh, N.C. — Religious leaders from across the state met Tuesday to call for legislative reforms that support fair treatment and protection of immigrants.
Rev. Cookie Santiago, director of Hispanic/Latino Ministries of the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, is among the nearly 1,000 people who have signed the North Carolina Religious Coalition for Justice's statement, condemning discrimination against immigrants.
The Raleigh resident, who was born to Puerto Rican parents in Massachusetts, says she sometimes gets treated differently because she is a Latina.
“You can't help but wonder because you know that there are people who have those prejudices against my name, against my skin color, against my people,” she said.
Santiago says she is also concerned over recent negative statements made by elected officials.
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell has been under fire since his comments on the growing minority population in his county were published in The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh. He called Mexicans "trashy" and said the growing Latino population in his county was "breeding like rabbits."
“On the way to take my child to school, she has to listen to radio programs where people are saying, 'We are trashy or that we reproduce like rabbits,'” Santiago said.
Twenty-six civil rights organizations and the Hispanic media group Que Pasa responded to Bizzell's remarks with a call for his resignation.
A comment by Mecklenburg Commissioner Bill James also drew allegations of racism.
“A county commissioner ... compared undocumented immigrants to prostitutes and drug dealers,” said George Reed, executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches.
A 2006 study by the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina's business school found that Hispanics, including the estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants, pump $9.2 billion a year into North Carolina's economy. Hispanics annually contribute $756 million in direct and indirect taxes while costing the state about $817 million a year for education, health care and prisons, according to the study.
The coalition came together Tuesday morning at the Methodist Building, 1307 Glenwood Ave., in Raleigh to bring attention to immigrants living in the state and to ask for an end to discrimination.
“We will not forget what happened to us, and we will not let it happen to anyone new,” said Eric Solomon, rabbi at Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh.
The clergy feel “shame and embarrassment that we're acting the way we're acting in this country,” Santiago said.
This group hopes a little education will a go a long way toward acceptance of immigrants.