Changing the Conversation on Immigration
Sojomail - November 15, 2007
The issue was gaining traction not based on thoughtful discourse, but based on sound bites and less than careful analysis.
- New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, who this week abandoned his plan to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants - a plan that he had hoped would make for increased security, safer roads, and an opportunity to bring immigrants "out of the shadows." (Source: The New York Times)
Changing the Conversation on Immigration
Changing the Conversation on Immigration
Yesterday, CCIR held a news conference to urge Americans to recall, in the week before Thanksgiving, both the blessings in their lives and the needs of "the least of these" in our nation, many of whom are undocumented immigrants working for a better life. I joined the Most Reverend John Wester, bishop of Salt Lake City, chairman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and James Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society.
We released a comprehensive report - A House Divided: Why Americans Of Faith Are Concerned About Undocumented Immigrants - which carefully documents three major consequences of Congress not resolving the issue.
Here are my remarks at the news conference:
The immigration system is broken. We all know that, we all agree on that. We missed a chance to fix it in this Congress and the debate since that time has gone sour. Today we are not here to advocate a bill but to share concerns about our conversation, how we are talking about people.
We've often cited Leviticus 19:34 – "The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Or as Jesus said so clearly, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
This immigration policy question is for us as people of faith the "welcoming the stranger" question. How do you treat those who are strangers in your midst? There is no doubt this debate has turned toward fear and anger. There are legitimate issues at stake. The rule of law is important, the system is broken. But the tenor of the debate has gone in an alarming direction. That's why we're here today. The way we talk about people is off course. Fear and anger dominate the conversation, not a civil discussion about the legitimate issues involved. How do we protect the dignity and the lives of the weakest and most marginalized among us?
I'm concerned about the restrictions, the new legislation being passed in many places. Oklahoma is one example, where in fact assistance to people who are undocumented is being questioned. When you're reaching out to hurting people, you don't check their papers. That's not our job. We don't do government's job for the government. And so we don't want to be in a situation where Christian ministry is made illegal. We're close to that now. You will hear from people in the churches across the political spectrum that if you tell us Christian ministry is illegal, we will go ahead and do Christian ministry whether it is legal or not. I'm concerned about these harsh restrictions that are coming from the states.
I'm also concerned about the talk. Talk is important. How we talk about people is very important. So I'm concerned when I read statements like an Arizona talk show host saying, "What we'll do is randomly pick one night every week where we will kill whoever crosses the border ... step over there and you die. You get to decide whether it's your lucky night or not. I think that would be more fun." Well, it wouldn't be fun. And that kid of talk poisons the body politic. We have to stand up against talk like that.
Thirdly, I'm concerned about what we call family values. The raids have been quite appalling. We are literally taking children from their mothers and fathers, we are separating families. This is not what in our tradition we should do. To protect and support families and those relationships is crucial to us.
So this is a conversation that is quickly going bad. I read today that it's the number two issue in the Iowa primary campaign. It will be a presidential election-year issue. So how we talk about undocumented people is a matter of life and dignity. In fact, Hispanics who have been here for four generations are being looked at askance now as if every Hispanic citizen was undocumented. All of a sudden, the country feels very unsafe and unwelcoming to people of Latino descent. This is something going wrong in our body politic.
We're here to say, let's pay attention how we talk about people and let's come back to the table. We're not going to have immigration reform for some time, perhaps, but let's start a new conversation about what will fix the system and how to treat people humanely in the meantime. It's a matter of life and dignity.
Catholic Wisdom on Iran and Iraq (by Jim Wallis)
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is holding its annual meeting this week. They have elected a new president, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, and will vote on their teaching document for the 2008 election. Two other actions are worth noting. The bishops approved a letter from their International Committee to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging a diplomatic solution with Iran.
Hospitality for 'Ugly Enemies' (by Brian McLaren)
Several weeks ago, Larry and Andrea - Christian friends who live and work among Muslims in the Middle East - sent me their reflections on the recent U.S. visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad which outraged so many. My friends were bothered by what transpired too, but for different reasons. I think their reflections are well worth sharing here.
My Pregnancy and Hope Amid Colombia's Chaos (by Janna Hunter-Bowman)
You've heard about, or maybe experienced first hand, the change in pregnant women's thoughts. This was true for me, but I wasn't able to talk about it for months. This is my story as I moved into the stream of mothers who carry children amidst turmoil and a future of total uncertainty.
Race and the Wealth Gap (by Jim Wallis)
New studies managed by the Pew Charitable Trusts show us how far the country still needs to go in achieving economic equality. A major finding is that the while overall incomes are rising, the income gap between African American and white families is also rising.
Servants in the Slums (by Bob Massey)
You haven't lived until you've scudded through Dehradun traffic in an autorickshaw. You haven't died either - but you probably haven't come so close before. The autorickshaw is a tiny three-wheeled gumdrop taxi powered by a hair dryer, feels like. No doors or seatbelts. I joined Dr. Reeta, the co-founder of the SNEHA school, for an autorickshaw ride to her facility. The ensuing dozen mini-brushes with mortality set just the right tone for meeting schoolkids recruited from Dehradun's grim slums.
More War Stories from Christian Soldiers (by Shane Claiborne)
Like Logan Laituri, I spent my Veteran's Day honoring one of my favorite Veterans – Martin of Tours. I spoke at the magnificent St. Peter's Cathedral here in Philadelphia on Sunday, and did my best to honor Martin's life and remember the millions of soldiers who have felt the collision of the cross and sword. A few thoughts from those reflections?
'Lions for Lambs': Liberal Fiddling (by Gareth Higgins)
After a decade or more in the doldrums, the studio has been resurrected by Tom Cruise, and the first film released under this banner is the Redford-helmed 'Lions for Lambs' – a tub-thumping intellectual thriller that pits brains against brawn as a liberal university professor, a neo-conservative senator, and a smart journalist duke it out for the prize of 'who gets to direct the war on terror' - which the film shows still to be fought by the poor.
Several readers have correctly pointed out that the heart of the gospel is forgiveness, and judgment is ultimately up to God. You are right, and I apologize. What I meant to say was in the legal context of "If they are found guilty," deliberately lying about going to war should not be pardoned. Remember Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon before he had even been tried for anything, or George H.W. Bush pardoning the leading Iran-contra figures? I do indeed believe in God's grace and forgiveness for anyone who repents. But the crime of lying about going to war should not be politically pardoned.
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