New America Media, News Report, Anthony Advincula
ALBUQUERQUE - Just a few months ago, in an historic church that sits at the heart of a Hispanic neighborhood in the southern valley of Albuquerque, N.M., Rev. Daniel Erdman used to preside over a Sunday worship service to a small congregation.
But since June, soon after Ariz. Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, prompting thousands of undocumented immigrant families to relocate out of fear of racial profiling and an anti-immigrant backlash, Erdman’s congregation has almost doubled in size.
At least five immigrant families and several individuals have come to his church, asking for help to rebuild their lives in a state that might as well be a new country to them.
Erdman said the church has provided them with transportation, temporary housing, food, and job opportunities. The pastor, who is also a staff member of the New Mexico Conference of Churches, spoke on the condition that the name of the church be withheld to protect the identity of the displaced families.
“They’re pretty self-sufficient, actually,” Erdman said. “They help each other"—for example, people with cars providing transportation to New Mexico to those who had no other way to get there.
Nowadays, with support from friends and members of the church, many immigrant families who fled from Arizona have found a community that has embraced them, regardless of their immigration status.
Church members have also connected the families with schools and "organizations that can help them find a job as well as fix their papers," Erdman said.
"Because their lives were uprooted, we had to show them around. One day we drove together and brought them to establishments that they need to know in a new place,” Erdman said. “That’s pretty much what we have done.”
Some newcomers have already found jobs, and their kids have started going to school. Others have quickly familiarized themselves with bus stops, shopping centers, laundromats, and other landmarks of the place they now call home.
On July 28, the day before SB 1070 was set to take effect, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton issued an injunction that blocked key provisions of the law, which hadequired police officers to check people'' immigration status and arrest anyone who was in the United States illegally.
But despite the injunction—and even if the controversial immigration law is eventually repealed —the pastor believes that the displaced families are not returning to Arizona.
“I have not heard [about] anybody moving back. They pretty much uprooted themselves, and now they just want to get settled in,” he added.
For now, the church is not limiting the number of people from Arizona seeking refuge. But facing scarce resources, Erdman said that the church might eventually have to create a waiting list.
“I think we just don’t have the capacity to continuously accept everyone,” he said. “But these families, I have to tell you, are quick in finding a job and their own house. They just want to move on with their lives as soon as they can.”
“In God’s eyes, everyone is equal,” said Rev. Lee Albertson, pastor of the First Congressional Church in Albuquerque, who has also helped to relocate several families from Arizona. “If they are legally or illegally in the country, we don’t know because we don’t ask.”
Some of the families who came to his church, Albertson said, were referred by a church in Phoenix.
“A coordinator from that church called me to see if we would be able to assist those in transition," Albertson said. "We have a network of churches in different states, including Texas, Nevada and Utah, who welcome these immigrants. But, even if the person is not a member of the church from the network, we still accept them. That’s how it works."
Churches of different religious denominations—Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal—as well as Islamic centers, he added, have also come together and assisted families from Arizona.
“These immigrants have come to us because we don’t assume that they are here illegally. Many of them, in fact, have been legal residents in the U.S. for a long time,” added Erdman.
Erdman expressed his admiration for how the new congregants—most of whom are Spanish-speaking immigrants from Phoenix and Tucson— quickly integrated themselves into their new surroundings, as if they had been part of the church for years. The long-time church members have been supportive and welcoming.
In every worship service these days, Erdman noted, the congregation likes to sing a favorite hymn, Cuando El Pobre Nada Tiene Y Aún Reparte (When a Poor Person Has Nothing And Still Gives).
“That song has [taken on] a more significant meaning,” Erdman said.