A northern suburban high school in the Chicago area chose not to send a girls basketball team to Arizona. Lots of news coverage. Many are very upset. Some not so much. It depends a bit on your political perspective I guess. What it does is throw another log on the raging fired called ‘immigration’. It’s a hot issue and with each log thrown it gets hotter. It’s a little scary because the heat is fueling some ugly passions that aren’t serving us particularly well. Those inflamed passions make getting on the solution side of things difficult but not impossible. Bottom line …the immigration issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon. So, here’s my take on some of the issues.
A nation has to control its borders. That makes all the sense in the world. But in order to secure our borders we need to have a sane and just immigration policy. It can’t be just a strong military type presence at all borders. A military presence is needed however. The Arizona law isn’t the answer in my humble opinion. It is, however, going to force the hand of Congress. If congress can come to the table, put the posturing aside, and look for a bi-partisan ‘win’ in all this we might just end up with a just and sane immigration reform package.
In that package there needs to be some sort of legal ‘thumbs up’ for those who aren’t citizens but want to work in this country. This legal thumbs up is not citizenship. It’s a ‘guest worker’ status that would allow people who have jobs to move back and forth freely, with some protections and restrictions, between their home country and the U.S.A. Those who need the kind of services undocumented workers provide could actually be proactive and legal in their recruitment of such workers. Now they’re playing in a murky shadowland that skirts all kind of existing laws. Of course, that means part of any reform package would be some language that would require employers to provide decent wages, healthy living arrangements and safe work conditions for these ‘guest workers’ That isn’t always the case now. Undocumented workers do get exploited and currently have no real legal recourse. That should bother us more than it does.
We have millions of undocumented folks who live in this country. Some have suggested that we ‘ship them all back’. That doesn’t make sense on a whole lot of levels. Just practically speaking it would be a nightmare to even attempt to do such a thing. Economically, it would wreak some severe damage on an already besieged economy. Contrary to some opinion undocumented aliens do pay more into the system than they receive from it. And from a pastoral and biblical justice perspective ‘shipping them back’ sounds just flat out punitive and vindictive and doesn’t pass the WWJD sniff test.
So, we have to figure out a way to allow immigrants to come out of the shadows and get on a clear path towards American citizenship. Let’s face it there are a whole lot of people that have been here for a long time, contribute greatly in a whole variety of ways, raise their families, pay taxes and contribute to the public good. Let’s help them to live without fear and provide a mechanism that would allow them citizenship even if they did enter illegally. If they don’t want to be a U.S. citizen and don’t want to be a ‘guest worker’ then there are other options. But first, let’s make a citizenship pathway for folks who are here, have been here for awhile and have made our country their home. They’ll need to get in line like everyone else but at least they’ll know there is a line. Obviously, there is some generous grace period for these folks and certainly we’ll need to figure out a way to move that line much faster than it currently moves.
Of course, there are really bad people who sneak into our country every day. Immigration reform has to have ‘teeth’ to it so that we can deal quickly with those who have no intention of contributing to the public good, don’t want to follow our laws and intend on doing us harm. In this day and age we can’t afford to be naïve. At the same time we need to remain lucid.
As Christians, we need to come to grips with the fact that all these ‘illegals’ are people near and dear to God’s heart. We’re called to love and care for those immigrants in our midst. Look through the Scriptures from a justice point of view and it’s staggering how much is written about the poor, disenfranchised, and the alien in our midst. Rumor has it that Jesus crossed a border looking for safety early in his life. And chances are each of us knows someone who has either done work on our home, cared for our lawn, lived next door, watched our children, offered us counsel, waited on us at a restaurant, cleaned our teeth, coached our kids, done our taxes, written a book that's been helpful, or gone to school with us … who might be illegal. Putting a human face to the big problems of life can help us to slow down and take stock of what we really believe. How punitive do I want the law to be towards someone I really care about? From my perspective I want immigration reform to give us something that feels like a way in and not necessarily a way out. I also want any reform to capture the true heart of God.
Immigration reform is desperately needed. As with most things how we go about making those reforms will speak mightily about where the heart of our nation really lies. Laws have to make sense, have the ability to be enforced with some consistency and protect the citizenry. We also can’t forget that we are a ‘nation of immigrants’. So, we don’t want to lose sight of what beckoned our forefathers and mothers. Those same dreams still mean something to those who desire a fresh start in the home of the brave and the land of the free. Any reform needs to make sure we still have arms and hearts open while still protecting our borders. That’s doable.