Hispanic Evangelicals Warn Against 'Xenophobic' Health Care Reform

Leaders of the largest Hispanic Christian organization in the nation expressed their concern Monday over the anti-immigrant rhetoric within the current debate on health care reform.

Though lawmakers have yet to find a way for millions of undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens while also strengthening border security, leaders of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) say working families should not be denied the opportunity to purchase affordable health care coverage as it would place millions of homes in a precarious situation.

"[W]e find it to be both morally and politically disadvantageous not to include coverage for all those currently residing in our nation," commented the Rev. Nick Garza, chief operating officer of the NHCLC, which often refers to itself as the Hispanic NAE (National Association of Evangelicals).

"To require immigrants to prove citizenship in order to purchase Health Care coverage stands as a defacto endorsement of racial profiling and continues to exacerbate the anti-immigrant sentiment currently embedded within the immigration reform debate," he added.

Currently, Hispanics and Latinos constitute 15.1 percent of the total U.S. population, or 45.4 million people, forming the second largest ethnic group after non–Hispanic White Americans. Of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the nation, almost three-quarters are Latino.

Though Hispanic leaders had hoped for lawmakers to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill some time this year, efforts were put on hold to address the state of the economy and other pressing issues, such as health care and energy.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had reported earlier that though the president had always planned to begin discussing the matter of immigration this year, the job will not likely be done this year.

Critics of Obama's initial plan to address immigration reform this year had argued that there is no room right now for efforts that help illegal immigrant workers as the current economic crisis has put millions of Americans out of jobs.

The Obama administration was looking to find a way for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States to be legal, while increasing border security, removing incentives to enter the United States illegally, and working with Mexico to reduce illegal immigration.

Despite the hold that has been placed on immigration reform, leaders of the NHCLC are urging lawmakers to find a way provide all U.S. residents with access to affordable health care.

"The Hispanic National Association of Evangelicals believes our nation needs Health Care Reform that reconciles affordability and accessibility with the protection of life, conscience, personal and religious liberties," said Dr. Gilbert Velez, chairman of the NHCLC and president of the Hispanic Mega Church Association.

"Health Care reform is a matter of Social Justice driven by a moral imperative that is undeniable. The fact that millions of Americans lack health care coverage is unacceptable," he added.

"We encourage all members of Congress to debate this issue with integrity, humility, and respect."

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