David Stout’s Story Behind the Story

30 Aug

“Christianity and Immigration in Oklahoma”
Broadcast by Telemundo, T-30 Noticas
By David Stout
IJJ Immigration in the Heartland Fellow, 2010

I came up with the idea for this series of reports when I moved to Oklahoma City and began working for Telemundo in 2007.  I wasn’t actually able to work with it until I had the opportunity to participate in the Institute for Justice and Journalism’s Immigration in the Heartland Fellowship.  For a little more than a year before I joined Telemundo, I worked with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its campaign for immigration reform, Justice for Immigrants.  While there, I learned of the many scripture-based teachings on why Catholics, and Christians in general, should welcome immigrants and work to help them.

After learning about this subject, I was surprised that, in the middle of the “Bible Belt,” Oklahoma was beginning to pass some of the most stringent immigration laws in the country.  Many of Oklahoma’s state legislators, including Rep. Randy Terrill (who introduced H.B.1804 and many other measures targeting immigrants), identify themselves as Christian. When H.B. 1804 was being debated and finally passed in 2007, there was a virtual silence on behalf of the faith community.  Of course, a few churches, whose flocks were primarily Hispanic, raised their voices and spoke out.  However, on a larger scale there was no sound coming from any other Christian congregations.  The Catholic Bishops in Oklahoma did put out a statement condemning the law; however, as far as I can tell, they did nothing to educate their followers on why they should accept immigrants, even though the Conference of Bishops has developed a wide range of materials for that exact reason.

I wanted to know why Oklahoma was rolling up the carpet and asking immigrants to get out if the Bible has such examples as Leviticus 19, where it says, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.” Or another example: the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

In doing this three-part series, I knew it would be a pretty hard mountain to climb.  Immigration is a very touchy and emotional issue, even more so in Oklahoma.  Many don’t want to talk about it and would rather just sweep it under the rug.  Participating in the Immigration in the Heartland Fellowship, however, helped me quite a bit in my research of this topic, as well as figuring out with whom I should speak.
The IJJ fellowship even afforded me the opportunity to speak with Richard Klinge, the chief counsel for the local Catholic Charities operation.  I always had a difficult time getting in contact with him to speak about what the Catholic Church was doing on behalf of immigrants in Oklahoma, and there he was at a conference session.  I spoke with him and told him I was looking for an interview. He said he wanted to do it but, in the end, as before, he never once returned any of my countless phone calls.  The IJJ’s fellowship also allowed me to receive some very important input from other journalists who report on the same issues around the country and in my own state.

Once I finished the fellowship, I put my nose to the grindstone, making call after call to a plethora of churches around the state. The answer always seemed to be “no.”  I tried to get interviews with some of the “mega churches” such as LIFECHURCH.TV, with no success. I also put in dozens of calls to the office of the archbishop of Oklahoma City, Eusebius Beltran, and not once did I receive a reply.  I finally went to Mass at one of the local Catholic churches, Sacred Heart or, in Spanish, Sagrado Corazon.  I decided I wanted to talk to the priest about his congregation, which is 95 percent Hispanic, and how the lack of immigrants would suck the life out of his parish.  He agreed to be interviewed.  I also got lucky in speaking with a pastor from a mostly Anglo Evangelical church, Mike DeMoss.  He was pretty much my last chance to speak to someone from the Baptist religion.  I had interviewed him in the past; he remembered me and was willing to sit down and chat.  I also spoke to the Rev.Victor Orta, an Evangelical pastor in Tulsa, and one of those few members of the faith community who was very active in speaking out against H.B. 1804.

After speaking to a pair of experts on the Bible who are professors at Oklahoma City University, a Methodist institution, I started forming my stories.  The first part, I decided, would be about the Bible and what the professors felt it says in regards to immigrants.  In the second part, I compared what the Hispanic Evangelical pastor had to say with what the Anglo Evangelical pastor told me about why they were or were not getting involved in immigration issues.  And in the last piece I looked at how important immigrants are to churches like Sagrado Corazon and spotlighted what the Catholic Church is doing on a national level to educate its flock about immigration and advocate on immigrants’ behalf, as well as its apparent lack of the same in Oklahoma.
In the end, what I wanted people to take from this series was that immigrants are important to the faith community and that Oklahomans aren’t necessarily supportive of stringent immigration laws on purpose. They just lack education on immigration, especially from a faith-based perspective.

The three-part series was broadcast May 12-14, 2010

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/user/t30noticias#p/u/5/ERji6w_7Rdw
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/user/t30noticias#p/a/u/0/oz6JfUeWPN8
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/user/t30noticias#p/u/1/i4DDwmKf7yM

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