Pastor Ron Valadez experienced the isolating effects of Alabama’s controversial HB 56. Among many other provisions, the policy allowed law enforcement officials to inquire about the immigration status of anyone based on a “reasonable suspicion” and placed heavy scrutiny on the public education of undocumented children. In 2013, many of these provisions were discarded after legal challenges by the Obama Administration and civil rights groups.
Recently, the writings of Pastor Ron and other faith leaders from Alabama were included in the book Love Has No Borders. Today, I’d like to share an interview with Pastor Ron conducted by LIRS’s Media Relations Specialist, Clarissa Perkins.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): How did immigration and immigration reform become a part of your life?
Pastor Ron Valadez (RV): Immigration became a part of my life back in 1916 when my grandfather, Norberto Hernandez Valadez, immigrated to the United States to escape the political unrest and violence in Mexico. Ironically, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to France in the first all-U.S. offensive attack of WWI. Upon earning the Purple Heart, he returned to the United States and settled in Greeley, Colorado where he owned a shoe repair business. In spite of his military service he was not granted citizenship until 1939. I am grateful that my grandfather made the sacrifices that he did to give his family the opportunities that this great nation provides, and I am willing to do my part to make sure that others have this same opportunity as well.
Immigration reform became a part of my life when I lived in Alabama during the passing of HB 56. Not only did I see first-hand how this affected the residents of Alabama, but as a Hispanic myself, I had the opportunity to feel the psychological aspects of this bill as well. Never before in my life had I ever been so self-conscious of the color of my skin. Something as simple as stopping at a red light next to a state trooper took on a whole new meaning. What once brought a sense of protection turned into a sense of invasion and isolation. That is no way for anyone to live.
CP: Your writings were recently included in the book, Love Has No Borders, edited by Rev. Angie Wright, a member of the steering committee of Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice. The book is a testament to faith and immigrant leaders who came together to combat unjust immigration laws. What were your writings on?
RV: I wrote about community. How we define “community” is of utmost importance to the topic of immigration reform. More specifically, who we include in our community is what is really at the heart of this issue. Scripture gives us example after example of how community kept getting defined with a wider and wider lens. Today, we have the opportunity to continue that biblical tradition of including more and more people into our sense of community. When we see others as no longer “other”, and see them as part of “us”, we are being just as radical as Jesus was in his earthly ministry, especially when we can do this with no strings attached.
CP: How did you become involved in the book?
RV: The book was a bit of a surprise for me. I met Rev. Angie Wright through Greater Birmingham Ministries. She sent out an email blast asking for examples of how Birmingham faith leaders have responded to HB 56. I immediately thought of my sermon that I had preached there but had no idea if that was the kind of example that she was looking for, nor did I realize that she was compiling a book. I told her that she could use it however she wanted to or disregard it just the same. I was very excited and humbled to find out that she included it in Love Has No Borders. What an honor for me to be included in such an important work, with such amazing faith leaders.
CP: Have you seen our nation’s broken immigration system affect your community in California?
RV: I now live in the greater Fresno, California area, Clovis to be exact, where I pastor a small suburban congregation. As I expected, immigration reform is a huge issue here. Where I have seen this affect people most is in the amount of poverty here. Not all of the poor here are immigrants, but many immigrants are farm laborers and the current system really takes a toll on them. They have to endure low wages, seasonal work, and a society that really doesn’t want them around for most of the year. They come here for the American dream, a dream that may be lost, or at least, not in the same form that it took in the past.
CP: In what ways have you seen your local community reach out to and support migrants?
RV: I have only been here for a few months but there are certainly some great organizations here that are fighting for immigration reform, like Fresno Immigration Reform Coalition, and Faith in Community. I am looking forward to working with these organizations and others to be an advocate for all who are underrepresented and vulnerable in our society.