Hispanic Heritage Month, Immigration, and the Presidency
This week is significant in the lives of the more than 40 million Hispanics in the United States in that it marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. Just like February and March celebrate African-American and women's contributions to the U.S., from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 we celebrate and honor the contributions of Latinos and Latinas to U.S. history, faith, politics, culture, sports, and entertainment. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates released statements honoring Hispanic communities and their contributions to the U.S. You can read their releases on their Web sites.
Presently, I do not personally endorse candidates. I find it best for people to read candidates' statements for themselves and make up their own minds. Although very little, if anything, was mentioned during the Republican and Democratic conventions, both candidates have raised the issue again. In addition, both candidates address immigration in the issues sections of their Web sites, McCain under "Border Security" and Obama under "Immigration." Please read them for yourself.
Obviously, in this presidential election much has been made of the Hispanic vote, particularly in swing states such as Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. The Hispanic vote is being aggressively courted by both parties. So in light of Hispanic Heritage Month, allow me to highlight some issues pertaining to immigration that the next president should address if he wishes to continue to ensure a Hispanic heritage as part of the rich diversity of the U.S. for years to come.
This issue will not go away. It is important not just for Latinos but for the entire nation and all its people -- Asian, European, African, etc. For the sake of the country, as a moral and fiscal imperative comprehensive immigration reform is needed. People may disagree on what the reform should look like but few would disagree that reform is needed. The next president must find a way to both respect the rule of law and secure the borders while providing a path to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants who are working hard, paying taxes, and contributing to the nation's future. Ignoring immigration reform should not be an option.
As a pastor, I understand that there is a delicate balance between justice and mercy. I also understand that scripture tells us to both obey authority (Romans 13) and welcome, love, and treat the stranger with dignity (Matthew 25:35, Deuteronomy 10:19, Exodus 22:21, Hebrews 13:2). What, then, is the call of Christians in regard to speaking to government and presidential candidates? In the words of biblical scholar M. Daniel Carroll, "We need to move ahead toward constructive change with Christian humility and charity, with respect for those placed in authority over us but especially with an eye to the higher calling of the people of God to be a blessing to the world." Both sides of the political aisle agree that immigration reform is necessary, that reform must be humane, practical, and obey the rule of law, and that the present system is deeply flawed. If there is agreement on these issues, why can't followers of Jesus say, "Let's work toward a more humane reform that honors the law while following the high calling of loving the stranger among us?"
Christians, who in I Peter 2:9-11 are called foreigners and exiles, can tell our next president we are interested in moral solutions that change this broken system. This reform should include attention to economic and infrastructure revitalization so that no group of people is adversely affected by immigration. Creative solutions are necessary in economic policies and budgets, foreign policy with developing countries, international trade agreements, and domestic and international employment opportunities if immigration reform is to be viable. Obeying authority is not just obeying the present laws. Scripture also creates room for changing and amending laws in ways that demonstrate our commitment to Christian conscience (Acts 4:19) and loving our neighbor as ourselves. In this way we not only ensure the Hispanic heritage but the U.S. heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb's Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also a Sojourners board member.