Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

Evangelical Christians, law enforcement officers and agricultural employers aren’t normally seen working alongside each other pushing for political change.

To make sure their voices are heard in the contentious immigration reform debate, people of faith and business leaders including grower-shippers are joining police and sheriff’s officers to try to build a new consensus on the issue.

Started in 2010, the Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform program is an interesting marriage of policy and morality working to fix a long-broken system by looking beyond their political differences and into the eyes of the farmworkers.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C., said his group started the movement after realizing neither political party can by itself reform immigration laws. He said a winning immigration reform strategy would need to engage conservatives and moderates.

The best way to do that would be to add law enforcement and businesses.

“It was kind of amazing how at meetings, we would have a grower standing next to their pastor who’s standing next to their police chief,” Noorani said.

“All three would look at each other and ask if the other was in this too. It would show the growers they’re not in this alone.”

Focus on people

It’s a different conversation they can engage in with the public and one that can help move immigration from a political issue to a moral issue.

“There’s a tendency for many churches to only concern themselves with what happens within their four walls,” Keith Stewart, a senior pastor at Springcreek Church in the Dallas suburb of Garland, Texas, said in a June 20 conference call.

“The evangelical church is waking up that it has a broader mandate than that.”

Stewart is part the Evangelical Immigration Table, a partnership including the National Immigration Forum and the National Association of Evangelicals. The coalition sponsored a “pray for reform” campaign June 24-28.

Fearing visits from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the growers represented by the North Carolina Farm Bureau in Raleigh, N.C., support the Bibles, Badges and Business cause but prefer to not be quoted on the issue, said Larry Wooten, the farm bureau’s president.

“If this immigration reform effort is going to be successful, it will take many voices working together to make it happen,” Wooten said.

“Law enforcement and the faith-based community have a voice in this issue and they should. When you’re in a ditch, you don’t turn down a helping hand. That’s where we as growers are with this labor situation, so we applaud the faith-based community’s help.”

Michael Carlton, director of labor relations for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, said the group works with the campaign in a small way through the Agricultural Workforce Coalition.

He said it brings some significant diverse and important groups to the table.

“That’s where the most positive effects (of immigration reform) will be, on business,” Carlton said.

“Churches have long been supportive of doing good things for people. When you have law enforcement people supporting the reform, that should send a very strong signal.”

The campaign could go beyond immigration reform and help make immigrants and the work they provide Americans become a part of mainstream conversation in rural and suburban areas among grower-shippers and people of faith.

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