The Common Good

Glenn Beck, Immigration, and Social Justice

Sojomail - May 6, 2010


All of these players, as well as their families, could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal. Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona to any state or local official with suspicion of his immigration status.

- Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, in a statement calling for the repeal or modification of Arizona’s immigration law and its effect on the 28% of players who are foreign-born. (Source: The Boston Globe)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Glenn Beck, Immigration, and Social Justice

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After Glenn Beck said “social justice is a perversion of the gospel” and a “code” for Marxism, communism, and Nazism, I invited him to a public dialogue to discuss the true meaning of social justice, which I said was at the heart of the gospel and integral to biblical faith.

In response, Beck promised on his radio show that “the hammer” would be coming down on me and my organization, and that he would devote a week of his television show to bringing me down. I took that as a “no” to dialogue.

But I would still like to have this discussion with Beck. Since he has attacked the whole concept of “social justice,” I think it would be a great opportunity to have a serious public conversation about what biblical social justice really means. But since he has so far refused to have that conversation, I have decided to go ahead with it anyway -- even without him -- with the hope that he will eventually join the discussion. In the meantime, let me take some of the things he has recently said about social justice and begin to respond to him. And I hope he will take this as an open and standing invitation to a civil and moral dialogue with him about the topic of social justice. This is a challenge to Glenn Beck to have a real and honest two-way public discussion.

So Glenn... you recently talked about the new Arizona law requiring all state law enforcement officers to ask for identity documents of anyone they have “lawful contact” with and “reasonably suspect” of being undocumented, and to detain them if they are. Many fear racial profiling and are concerned that the only people required to carry papers will be those who might look illegal, i.e. have brown skin. The new law also makes it illegal to “harbor” or “transport” undocumented people, or even to be found with them. This has made many Christian clergy and church workers say the new law would make Christian compassion and ministry illegal, and if it does, they won’t obey it.

You are vigorously in favor of the new law. But I would suggest that the solution to the 12 million undocumented workers now in this country isn’t demanding identity papers and threatening deportation, but working to change the conditions that lead people to come here without papers in the first place. Decades of neglect and irresponsibility by both parties -- liberals and conservatives -- have created this inhumane and complicated problem. We have had two invisible signs on our southern border: “No Trespassing” and “Help Wanted.” Those conflicting messages have ensnared many vulnerable and sometimes desperate people. And now we need to fix that broken immigration system that is grinding up vulnerable families.

You said, “America, this is what you have to understand: equal justice, not social justice. Equal justice of the law demands that law-breakers not be rewarded for their illegal activity, that instead they be treated like everyone else,” and that “equal justice” means when anyone comes to the United States illegally, they should be deported.

Glenn, I wish you could have been with me to meet a woman in Phoenix just two weeks ago. Yes, she came here illegally -- as an infant, on her farm-worker father’s back 47 years ago. Her whole life has been here, her children are here, and now she works for a Christian ministry taking care of vulnerable people. Is she really a threat to us? Should she just be deported? Or should we together reform the immigration system in a fair, humane, and compassionate way?

You said, “Equal justice says she's got to go home.” Glenn, she is home.

You said, “Equal justice means if you live in the U.S. -- I've got to be here legally. I can't commit identity theft and fraud and neither should illegal aliens.” Well, we all want to be a nation of laws, so let’s find a way to bring people out of the shadows. Let’s be tough on crime, but give those whose lives are now here, and who are law-abiding and are contributing to our society, a chance to start an earned path to citizenship. Wouldn’t that be social justice?

In a letter to you that you never answered I said, “Social justice [is] a personal commitment both to serve the poor and to attack the conditions that lead to poverty” and that “biblical justice also involves changing structures, institutions, systems, and policies, as well as changing hearts to be more generous.” What do you think about that?

Serving the poor, as you said, is a fundamental spiritual requirement of faith; but challenging the conditions that create poverty, or bad messy problems like our current immigration system, is also part of biblical social justice. Isn’t it?

Glenn, this new Arizona law would break up families. You don’t want to see that, do you?

You said, “You know the statue of justice? She is blindfolded. She doesn't care if it's religion or race or whatever. Justice is blind. Stop using justice as a political weapon or for doing favors for those who agree with your ideology.” Do you really think that the execution of justice in the U.S. has always been colorblind? Will this new law be colorblind? I think you know better than that.

Your definition of “equal justice” requires that every person be treated equally. So in Arizona, that means the police should be authorized to ask every person they stop for a traffic violation for proof of citizenship. There should be no discretion for those who they have a “reasonable suspicion” are undocumented. In practice, “reasonable suspicion” likely means those with darker skin or a Spanish accent. How do they know that the Caucasian who just ran a red light is not an undocumented immigrant from Canada or France? Or that the darker-skinned Hispanic isn’t a third-generation U.S. citizen? Do we really want a society like Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa, where all people are required to carry passbooks with documentation of their status? “Reasonable suspicion” is not equal justice; it is a false solution to a real problem. The law itself is unjust, and "equal" application of an unjust law is still unjust, regardless of how "equally" it is applied.

Equal justice focuses on individuals. Social justice urges that we work to change the conditions that lead people to come to this country, rather than singling out people that the authorities suspect might be undocumented. The solution to 12 million undocumented people is to fix a broken immigration system, not to demand identity papers. Biblical justice involves standing with the most vulnerable, as well as changing structures, institutions, systems, and policies, especially in democratic governments where we have the opportunity to do so.

So Glenn, let’s talk about this.

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