Earlier this year, the Rev. Miguel Rivera, chairman of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, began encouraging a full-out boycott of the U.S. Census on behalf of the Latino and immigrant community in protest of the failure to enact immigration reform. Rivera’s efforts have been widely perceived as damaging to the Latino and immigrant community he claims to be empowering. In response, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) has started using the Bible to target religious Latinos with a different message: What would Jesus do?
NALEO is handing out posters that illustrate the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. NALEO explains that the Gospel of Luke indicates that the reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem is because Joseph and Mary were fulfilling their civic duty by returning to the town to be counted by the Roman census. A poster printed by NALEO reads: “This is how Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary participated in the Census.” Nick Kimball, spokesman at the Commerce Department (which oversees the Census Bureau), said that the government played no role in creating the posters.
However, Rivera calls NALEO’s new campaign a “blasphemous” “assault against our Christian faith” and accuses the group of violating “the concept of separation of church and state.” Rivera, who has been using his position as an influential religious leader to promote his boycott, seems to be missing the irony. A lot of Rivera’s own critics have quietly accused him of staging a personal publicity stunt at the expense of his own community. Publicly, they have described him as a “misguided figure who could cause the loss of billions of federal dollars to Latino neighborhoods that need it most.” Even Latino pastors have affirmed that “a man of the cloth should not be pushing Latinos to do something that will ultimately hurt their community.”
Whether the poster is in poor taste or not, NALEO is responding to Rivera on his own turf by making an explicit religious appeal. The Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates that one in every six Latinos belongs to an evangelical church. Undocumented immigrants are among the least likely to participate in the Census and the Drum Major Institute warns that their non-participation could lead to inaccurate demographic information and result in costly mistakes in infrastructure, education, health care planning, and representation.