The Common Good

Jim Wallis: Politics Isn't Working

Legislation for comprehensive immigration reform collapsed in the U.S. Senate yesterday as an effort to move to a final vote was defeated, leaving the future in serious doubt. It’s the perfect example of an observation I’ve often made - that most people I talk to around the country think that the political process isn’t working in America; it is failing to resolve the big moral issues of our time.

In this morning’s Washington Post, in an analysis of the Senate action, Dan Balz wrote:

The collapse of comprehensive immigration revision in the Senate last night represents a political defeat for President Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the bill's most prominent sponsors. More significantly, it represents a scathing indictment of the political culture of Washington.

The defeat of the legislation can be laid at the doorstep of opponents on the right and left, on congressional leaders who couldn't move their troops and on an increasingly weakened president and his White House team. But together it added up to another example of a polarized political system in which the center could not hold.

The partisan blame game was already at fever pitch as the bill was going down yesterday. But to those far removed from the backrooms of Capitol Hill, what happened will fuel cynicism toward a political system that appears incapable of finding ways to resolve the nation's big challenges.

While we will continue to advocate for comprehensive reform, when the political system proves itself incapable of change, it is time for the community of faith to lead. And once again, that is what is happening. In the 1980s, as thousands of refugees were fleeing the wars in Central America, people of faith stepped up. We offered services, advocacy, and when necessary, sanctuary. Congregations all across the country hosted refugees and protected them from efforts at deportation.

Now a New Sanctuary Movement has emerged. The initial impetus was in Chicago, where a mother's plight revived the sanctuary movement:

Sanctuary, in antiquity the practice of providing refuge in a sacred place, has been revived in a rather dramatic fashion by an undocumented Mexican cleaning woman trying to evade deportation by holing up in a Chicago church.



Elvira Arellano, 32, said she invoked the ancient right of sanctuary in a desperate effort to avoid being separated from her 7-year-old son, Saul, an American citizen.



That was nine months and 18 days ago. Since then, her act of civil disobedience has helped spark a new sanctuary movement and transformed her into a leader in the effort to create a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

The movement is now growing, as Congress seems unable to act, and surprise raids are separating more and more immigrant families. People of faith are taking Leviticus 19: 33-34 seriously:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The 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.

We will continue to advocate for justice in immigration reform, but we will also act to serve those who are being oppressed. Our faith demands no less.

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