Guest column: Immigrants help enrich state’s culture

Immigration reform is both urgent and stalled in Congress. So, it’s no wonder that in New Orleans, the “most unique” city in America, 22 people were arrested earlier this month. For them, the need for immigration reform is personal.

In a 295-year-old city founded by the French, once governed by the Spaniards and ultimately purchased by the United States 210 years ago, the actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are a symptom of our broken immigration system.

Louisiana — and, specifically, New Orleans — built up by wave after wave of immigration, are shining examples of the contributions of immigrants to our country. We are the Gumbo City, a melting pot with a little bit of “dis” and a little bit of “dat,” making one of the most savory dishes in the south. Birthplace of jazz, Tabasco, the New Orleans Saints and the French Quarter, all made great from the combination of our greatest resource: people from all over the world, bringing their culture and dreams, mixing it in this big pot of determination, hope and faith.

The master chef knows the secret to the best gumbo is letting it sit till the next day, when all the ingredients infuse into one another. Where would we be without the contributions of each wave? It’s how our shorelines and our gumbo are created.

How can we protect these rich cultural shores?

As senior pastor and founder of a bilingual church community in Metairie, I recently joined more than 600 other conservative faith, business and law enforcement leaders at a gathering called “Americans for Reform” in Washington, D.C. We met with our legislators to insist upon broad immigration reform that reflects our Christian values — and benefits our economy and community safety.

The Bible is very clear about God’s love for every single person on this planet, regardless of where they reside or where they were born, as well as God’s special concern for immigrants.

I have found that most of our immigrant neighbors want to reside in accordance with the law of the land.

The problem is that they have stood in so many lines that have led to costly false promises and dead ends with no hope. The people I know would gladly “go back to the end of the line” if it would lead them to a chance to get legally right.

I traveled to our nation’s capital to keep our cultural shorelines from eroding.

Immigrants are three times more likely than the general population to start a new business in Louisiana, and the Hispanic population has tripled since Katrina devastated our shores. Some estimates count 100,000 Hispanics who have made greater New Orleans their home.

Without commonsense immigration reform to shore-up those gains and protect us against future loss, we’ll never get to see the full rebuilding effect that our new neighbors can accomplish.

Similarly, we have risen from about 40 Spanish Evangelical churches before Katrina to close to 200 at last count in 2007. The benefit to our community that those new followers of Jesus provide is incalculable and precious.

I invite Louisianians — and, particularly, our elected representatives — to join us in working to ensure that our nation’s laws work in the best interests of all of us. American citizens will benefit from a more stable economy. Aspiring citizens and future waves of immigrants will be able to contribute fully if they have a fair opportunity to earn legal equality and citizenship.

Broad immigration reform will keep the cultural shoreline of Louisiana growing and vibrant, as God intended.

Wade Moody is senior pastor and founder of Vida Assemblies of God Bilingual Church in Metairie.