More than 70 Kansas religious leaders and community activists have signed an open letter urging the state’s candidates for elective office to stop the “vilification” of immigrants in campaign discourse.
“Immigrants — including our undocumented brothers and sisters — are a vital part of our community,” said the Rev. Rick Behrens, a Kansas City, Kan., Presbyterian pastor who read from the letter at a Wednesday news conference in Olathe. “They contribute to our economy, they go to school with our kids, they attend religious services with us.
“Despite the fear-mongering, immigrants commit less crime than native born.”
Organizers said the letter will be sent this week to scores of Kansas candidates for state and federal races, Republicans and Democrats.
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The interfaith group did not singled out a particular candidate for condemnation. A lead organizer, the Rev. Bobby L. Love, Sr., later deflected questions of whether or not the effort is an indirect attack on Kansas Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, whose calls for strict enforcement of immigration laws have raised his national profile.
“As a pastor I cannot tell you who to vote for,” said Love, of Second Baptist. “But let us put our faith to action by selecting candidates that will hold to the values of treating people like we ourselves want to be treated, not to pit one against the other.”
He added: “The elephant in the room is race.”
While federal tax laws restrict leaders of churches and other tax-exempt organizations from outright endorsing candidates, “in religion you can’t help drifting into calls for human rights,” said University of Kansas historian Randal Jelks, who is not part of the letter campaign. “Church denominations have long been at the forefront of immigrant resettlement issues.”
Kobach’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Behrens of Grandview Park Presbyterian Church said the messages of some politicians “tar every immigrant with accusations of criminality” and wrongly blame undocumented persons for economic and societal problems.
The group’s letter is calling for “immigration laws that reflect our moral values. Until such time we must resist the temptation to place blame where it does not belong.”