The Common Good

From Fear to Fact: U.S. Citizen Arrested for 'Driving While Latino' in Arizona

100429-az-arrestCertain moments in our nation's history have consistently opened the door for the least civil voices to enact evil through civil policy: think the institution of race-based U.S. slavery, the Indian removals, Jim Crow laws, legalized segregation, the federal protection of lynching mobs, and, don't forget, the Japanese internment camps, among others. In each case, hard economic times led otherwise sane people to unleash insane injustice under the guise of public policy.

There's something about hard-knock times that consistently opens civil minds to uncivilized acts. When those minds hold the power of the policy pen, then personal malice becomes government-sponsored acts of terror against its own citizens.

This time it is the good, economically recessed, fear-ravaged people of Arizona who have elevated bottom-dwellers to the place of law-makers. They actually handed a registered hate group, FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), the pen and asked them to help write Arizona's anti-immigrant law, SB1070, which requires police officers to ask for "papers" from anyone they "suspect" might be an illegal immigrant. If they cannot prove their legal residence, they will be thrown in jail. This Machiavellian law places the U.S. in company with Apartheid South Africa, Nazi Germany, and the Antebellum South, each of which demanded the presentation of "papers" demonstrating the individual from the minority group was allowed to be in certain areas of town.

On April 23, Governor Jan Brewer took her policy-making pen and placed her government-issued stamp of approval on SB1070, signing it into law.

The first victim fell before the bill was signed. The victim, Abdon, a Latino trucker, was pulled over and asked for his "papers." When he didn't have his birth certificate on his person, he was jailed. His wife was called and told to bring his birth certificate to the jail to arrange his release. Abdon is a United States citizen born in Fresno, California.

There are times in scripture and history when God looks at unjust laws and calls people of faith to stare them down and break them. Think Abram and Sarah posing as brother and sister upon entering Egypt to get around a dirty law established by Pharaoh. Think Moses defying Pharaoh's legal hold on his Jewish kinfolk. Think Jesus defying religious laws to touch the bleeding woman and the leper and to heal on the Sabbath. Think Paul who called the church to cross ethnic and racial boundaries, flying in the face of religious laws of his day.

Then think of the abolitionists and conductors on the underground railroad who said "no" to the complete crush of oppression in their day. Think of Rosa Parks who starred in the face of segregation and said "no" in her day. Think of César Chávez who mounted a 36-day spiritual fast against environmental and labor injustice, saying "no" in his day.

This is our day.

It is time to march. It is time to make some serious noise. We must speak up and out and make it known that we will not lie down. We will not comply with injustice. We will not let hate and fear govern our nation. No! We have come too far for that! Too many people have bled and died and paid severe costs for us to trample on their sacrifices with unjust laws like SB1070.

Without federal standards, states are free to enact their own unjust immigration policies. Today, pundits say Congress is backing away from its commitment to introduce and pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform in this session.

As a person of faith, I call on our congress to have faith! Do what God calls all of us to do when faced with government sponsored evil. Look injustice in the eye and say "no." Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform now.

Lisa Sharon Harper is the executive director of New York Faith & Justice and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

+ Ask the U.S. Senate to pass national immigration reform this year.

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