Religious and community leaders in North Carolina on Tuesday began a support campaign for immigrants by placing billboards in the state's main cities.

The initiative, coordinated by the non-profit group Uniting NC, seeks "to put a human face on immigration and change the negative rhetoric that has poisoned public discourse on the issue."

"Our goal is not to fight against anti-immigrant laws - other groups are doing that - but to show the positive side and the voices that are not being heard in this debate," Kristin Collins, the group's director, told Efe on Tuesday.

"We have to welcome foreigners, especially at times like Christmas, and to treat immigrants with respect," she said.

The messages on the billboards include "We'll get there together. Immigrants make us stronger."

One of the images shows an Hispanic father with his two children and the other shows a Muslim family from Asia.

Collins said that more than 250 people donated money to pay for the billboards, which will appear starting next month in the cities of Durham, Mebane, Charlotte, Asheville and Goldsboro.

"I'm concerned that we may be becoming another Alabama or Arizona. I don't want that for North Carolina," Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh told Efe on Tuesday, alluding to harsh anti-immigrant legislation adopted in those two states.

The initiative coincides with the beginning last week of debate in the North Carolina legislature about the matter of undocumented immigrants.

An immigration committee, made up of six Republicans and three Democrats, has the task of presenting by next May a provisional report with recommendations about what to do about unauthorized immigration.

"We want to help people see that immigrants are not frightening invaders. They are our neighbors. They are people with stories much like our own, who are trying to make a good life for themselves and their families," emphasized Chris Liu-Beers, chairman of the Uniting NC Board of Directors.