The people of God have long been a wandering people. The Old Testament is filled with directives concerned with the way the alien is to be treated -- because they had been strangers in a strange land. From the Torah we hear this directive:
33When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
It is in the light of passages such as this that we must hear and consider the debates in this land concerning immigration. Immigration reform has been stalled for years, in large part because there simply is not the political will to get done what must be done. The parties are too polarized and thus we find ourselves stalled and the problem worsens.
It is in that context that the state of Arizona has taken matters into their own hands and enacted a new law that gives the police almost unlimited powers to stop and question a person, whom they might deem to be illegally in the country. What they have done is criminalize being present in the country without proper documentation. The possibilities of misuse and abuse of the law are endless. While nativist sentiment fuels this movement in part, there are a lot of other factors involved as well. I my mind no good can come of this law. It will only exacerbate the problem.
Now, having lived for much of the past 30 years in Southern California (until my recent move to Michigan), I understand the complexities of the issues facing Arizona. Due to an unwillingness on the part of Congress to address immigration issues, the states bordering Mexico have become increasingly agitated about the costs and dangers of dealing with immigration issues. Immigration issues impact hospitals, schools, housing stock, crime, and more. People are exploited for economic gain.
Although border states must deal most directly with immigration related issues, it's important that we all contribute to them. Our desire for cheap labor and cheap goods, combined with business interests wanting to make the most profit, has led to the increased use of undocumented immigrant labor. Undocumented workers don't tend to be unionized, don't complain about hours or pay, will work in less than savory conditions -- but often pay taxes, including Social Security (for benefits they'll never claim). As for the illegal drug trade -- we fuel this by our insatiable demand for drugs. It is obvious that the "war on drugs" has failed, and that the demand from the north keeps the drugs flowing. If immigration reform is to happen, we must take responsibility for our own actions.
So, as an op-ed in the Arizona Republic suggests, Arizona has taken on the aura of a police state. The people of Arizona recognize that civil liberties are at stake, but they don't seem to care. And, the likelihood is that a rather extreme sort of leadership likely will come to the fore in Arizona. Similar movements could emerge in other states -- including California.
So what do we do? Jim Wallis has called for churches to not cooperate. Some are calling for a boycott of Arizona. But, perhaps the best thing we can do is push for Congress to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform that is fair and just, that recognizes that you can't simply move 11 million (whatever the current number) of people out of the country. Many of these families have children who have lived all their lives in the states. For all intents and purposes they are as "American" as I am, only they lack the proper papers. Businesses also must come clean and obey the law -- as a commentator on NPR said yesterday, if there are no jobs people won't be moving north.
Let us reason together on this and come up with an equitable solution.
1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-2)