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The Miami Herald
Washington – Alarmed by what they called a “hateful tenor,” a group of religious leaders, including the former pastor at Miami’s Notre Dame D’Haiti Catholic Church, on Monday called on presidential hopefuls to stop demonizing undocumented immigrants.
The call came as immigration emerges as one of the most contentious issues in the presidential race and as Republican candidates, in particular, seek to outflank each other by appearing tough on immigration.
“Unfortunately, the presidential candidates are allowing themselves to be co-opted into divisiveness rather than offering leadership,” said Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, a former Miami pastor who now chairs the committee on international policy for the U.S. Catholic bishops.
The Rev. Luis Cortes, the founder of Esperanza USA, a group of Christian Hispanic leaders influential in President Bush’s Hispanic outreach efforts, warned that the GOP risks alienating Hispanics — the fastest growing voting block in the country.
“They’re moving away from a Republican position that they previously held as a party of family values,” said Cortes, who appeared on the call organized by Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. He suggested Mitt Romney, who has been the most aggressive candidate on illegal immigration, has influenced the other candidates to follow suit.
“It seems Romney put his presidential bid on it, and was able to move Giuliani,” Cortes said. But he said evangelicals are most “surprised” by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whom he said “started with a Biblical position and the minute he moved up in polls, took a step to the right.”
As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee assailed the federal raid of a poultry plant, but earlier this month called for deporting undocumented immigrants who don’t return to their home country and fining employers who hire them. His campaign didn’t immediately respond to a telephone call or e-mail seeking comment.
A spokeswoman for Romney’s campaign said the former Massachusetts governor believes “legal immigration is a great source of strength for America, but it cannot remain so if we as a nation do not stop illegal immigration.
“This has been the guiding principle he has campaigned on, and it’s one that the American people expect from their next president,” spokesman Kristy Campbell said.
Giuliani’s camp steered a reporter to the former New York mayor’s remarks at a Spanish language debate earlier this month in Miami in which he suggested that focusing on closing the border would benefit many immigrants as well as the United States.
“It’s no picnic to be living as an illegal immigrant,” he said at the debate. “It’s a terrible way to live. And even promoting that from the point of view of the illegal immigrant makes no sense.”
But Cortes called the answers at the debate “hypocrisy,” noting that the candidates had softened their immigration stances before a largely Hispanic audience.
Wenski suggested the candidates’ ire should be directed at Congress, which has failed to pass a comprehensive immigration reform.
Arizona Sen. John McCain backed the measure that failed in the Senate earlier this year.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Miami Herald

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