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What's The Path Forward After Dayton And El Paso?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we'd like to hear from a spiritual leader who's thinking about ways for the country to move forward after this weekend's shootings. Joining us now is Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Reverend Rodriguez, welcome back. Thank you for joining us once again - although I'm sorry about why.

SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ: Thank you for having me, and I'm sorry likewise beyond.

MARTIN: Now, you've advised many presidents, including President Trump. You've met with him many times. What advice would you have for him in this moment?

RODRIGUEZ: Brand-new story, brand-new narrative. I would say, Mr. President, please, in the name of Jesus, say the following. We have a beautiful family called the American family. It's beautiful. It's a mosaic. Its diversity makes us beautiful. Different races, different ethnicities, the immigrant, the citizen - we are all beautifully created in the image of God. Therefore, we must build a firewall against hatred, animosity, violence and any and all discrimination, and we must do it in our generation. Our generation - the onus falls on us to finally bring an end to this evil, to this cancer that is destroying our collective experience called the American experience. Let's do it now. That's what I would tell him to say.

MARTIN: You wrote in a statement saying, we urge our political leaders, Democrat and Republican, to once and for all depoliticize immigration in this country and instead embrace a fact-based approach to this and to all political questions that divide us. What does that look like?

RODRIGUEZ: That looks like we speak about the immigration debate from - not from the extremes, right? When we talk about immigration from - beginning with the idea, number one, that every single person is created in the image of god, immigrant and citizen. By the way, that - undocumented (unintelligible) and we're all created in the image of God. That's the first, foundational piece of a viable immigration conversation.

But when we begin by everything is racism or if - it needs to be racism - but when we begin with ideas that Latinos are somehow changing the nation, and, you know, one for English, two for Spanish - when we begin with that, either on one side of the aisle or the other, I am really sick and tired of both (unintelligible) and elephants exploiting the immigration debate and not doing anything about it.

So to me, I'm not blaming what took place in El Paso on the politicians. What I am saying is that our political climate may very well serve as a facilitative platform for these crazy, extreme actions and ideas to be made manifest. So all of us need to build firewalls immediately. That's what I'm saying.

MARTIN: The question, though, I think, Reverend Rodriguez - I'm sorry, you just cannot escape the fact that many people feel that this president exacerbates these tensions in a way that few other national leaders do. I mean, telling people to go back where they came from, you know, who are people who happen not to be white - you know, when three of the four people he told to go back where they came from are people of color - I mean, how is that - how do you not account for that? I mean, how do you address that?

RODRIGUEZ: Again, I don't sign off on absolutely everything Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer or Kevin McCarthy may tweet or declare. I don't. I'm not the endorser of anyone. And I have pushed back on statements that I do believe do exacerbate the very climate and culture that I just referenced. Indeed. But to put the onus exclusively on the president when on the other side of the aisle there are calls of uber-racism and absolutely...

MARTIN: When has Nancy Pelosi ever told anybody to go back where they came from?

RODRIGUEZ: No, Nancy Pelosi hasn't told anyone to come back where they came from. But there have been policies and exacerbated hyperbole in rhetoric as it pertains to statements made on both sides - Democrats and Republicans - that have led to this sort of climate. So to put the onus exclusively on the president would not be fair. Are there things the president has stated or tweeted that I have disagreed with? Absolutely. But the same thing on the other side of the aisle.

MARTIN: What do you see as your role in the days ahead?

RODRIGUEZ: Remind everyone that immigrants are one of the greatest blessings that the good Lord has brought to America. Immigrants are a blessing and not a curse. This dumb idea that Latinos are changing America - and if the manifesto is legitimate - we're not a hundred percent certain - but if the manifesto is legitimate and authentic, it speaks to a troubled individual that may very well be part of a troubled group of individuals in this country that once again want to resurrect a nativist, white nationalist mindset that will not survive in the 21st century.

My message is this - conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, liberals - let's come together, and let's annihilate white nationalism, nativistic, xenophobic attitudes in America once and for all. Let's bring the country together and let's address immigration. And it's a win-win across the board.

MARTIN: That's Reverend Samuel Rodriguez. He's president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Reverend Rodriguez, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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