The Common Good

The Politics of Immigration

Both sides have been spinning and claiming victory in Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s now infamous immigration legislation SB 1070. Not surprisingly the Court ruled on the side of federal supremacy, striking down three out of four measures in the Arizona legislation, but upholding the right of local law enforcement to demand “papers” if they believe someone is undocumented.

 Ivone Guillen / Sojourners
Outside the Supreme Court as SB 1070 decision handed down, Ivone Guillen / Sojourners

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Since the 2008 failure to move comprehensive immigration reform and last year’s disappointment on the Dream Act, the immigration reform movement has had trouble getting any “air-time” in a country that is rightfully concerned about financial recession. However, the 2012 election and a strategically placed Hispanic electorate in key swing states has candidates talking about immigration anew since the GOP primaries.

There has for some time been a larger strategy at play here that I will bluntly call “evil.” 

Knowing that the American people would never stand for mass deportations—and with the failure to push a federal compromise that would solve the undocumented question—anti-immigrant groups have made the states their battleground. That is after all what laws like SB 1070 are, a strategy of deportation through attrition, or as Romney stated in the GOP Arizona debate, a means to get people to “self-deport.” The aim is to create an environment so toxic, so fearful that the undocumented will leave on their own.

While there are many within our faith communities who have supported pro-immigrant reform for years, lately it seems the church is coming together on this critical issue of social justice. I still recall vividly several debates I had on Christian talk radio in 2008 in which, despite the countless scripture I cited, I was met with the Romans 13 argument that we all be “subject to the authorities.” Fast forward to today and you see the church reacting both from the heart of Jesus but also in necessity. Church leaders know that these policies of deportation through attrition will impact their congregations personally.

An estimated 360,000 undocumented immigrants live in Arizona, all under the foot of this new law that local law enforcement—such as famed sheriff Joe Arpaio—will now use with ferocity. In contrast, close to a million young people will now be eligible for work permits, not be separated from their friends and family, and have a chance at a better life thanks to Obama’s executive order. You take those numbers alone and multiply the impact they have on communities and churches and see how large of an impact immigration legislation creates.

There has been only one clear solution for some time—comprehensive immigration reform. This holistic approach creates a earned pathway to citizenship, a temporary workers program to support our economy, and increased border security. The Court’s ruling was clear that this is a federal issue and I agree. 

But of first importance as followers of Jesus we should constantly have in mind the millions of individuals being affected by the current system and keep pushing forward with determination.

 

Jose Cruz is a lawyer and immigration activist in Chicago. He served as the assistant to the Director of Hispanic Affairs in the Clinton White House and was the founder of ImmigrationPAC, federal non-partisan political action committee designed to fund pro-comprehensive immigration reform candidates. Raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he is also the assistant to the pastor at First Spanish Christian Church in Chicago.

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