The Common Good

A Word from Phoenix: 'I don't want my city to be the Birmingham or Selma in this drama'

On Tuesday, a group of local faith and community leaders, along with Jim Wallis and Noel Castellanos, called on the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, to veto SB 1070, the toughest immigration enforcement bill in the country. My precious Phoenix is in the spotlight, but for the wrong reasons, I think. I don't want my city to be the Birmingham or Selma in this drama. That sounds awfully painful.

This bill is not about enforcement; it is about politics. Personal political ambition, electoral political calculus, and even worse, it is about the politics of fear. SB1070 preys upon the fears of native-born folks who rightfully worry about a population of people who live outside the system; it makes people in the shadows even more afraid of the system they silently contribute toward. Encouraging these fearful sentiments is wrong. It also does not move us toward real solutions.

You must know the truth by now: Immigrants who are long-term, permanent members of our communities cannot fix their status. The system refuses to recognize them despite many attempts at 'doing the right thing.' Either brought over as children or as decades-long, tax-paying residents, another 'homeland' does not exist. They cannot wait in line, and they never have been able to. Visa availability for workers in industries like construction, hospitality, manufacturing, and tourism is effectively zero. And it has been for decades. You say, 'wait in line'; they say 'I would literally die waiting, and you wanted a new house, a date night, and clean hotel rooms.'

Our broken system that does not dole out visas based on economic need and that has always been fonder of Western migrants, has allowed us (and our economies) to get fat on immigrant labor, while not having to pay for it. This reality is undeniable. To deny this truth and call upon base arguments or simple messages of law enforcement, period, is either deceitful or ignorant.

In light of these facts and in recognition of this history, yanking these families out of the fabrics of our communities is morally unconscionable and will result in severe levels of pain in our neighborhoods and churches like mine. We have to say something. Please, for those of you who disagree with me, understand that I am fighting for my friends.

Biblical values are rooted in our migrant faith and migratory spiritual narrative. The patriarchs were called sojourners; Ruth was a Moabite living in Bethlehem; Joseph was so assimilated into Egyptian culture his brothers did not recognize him; Nebuchadnezzar deported Daniel; Moses was an alien fugitive in Midian; David lived with the Philistines fleeing King Saul; Jesus, our Peace, our Redemption Crucified, was an infant carried over a border, like so many of my honor-roll discipleship students who dream about a future denied.

God's law for Israel is rooted in God's person and is a paradigm for others. God's law reminds Israel of the need to protect the vulnerable and to do so because God does. God says, 'I love the widow, the orphan, and the stranger and so shall you!' 'Don't be like the Egyptians who don't know me; they proclaim the myth of scarcity, you shall live into my abundance!' Romans 12 reminds us:

to offer your bodies as living sacrifices

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