Last week President Barack Obama made a bold move. He went on the record explaining, in no uncertain terms, that he is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. And now, the administration backed up its words with action. The U.S. Justice Department sued the state of Arizona, claiming through the courts that immigration law is ultimately the responsibility of the federal government, not the states.
With these actions President Obama is exercising courage, and courage is the stuff of leadership. Last Thursday I stood with the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform at a press conference in front of the White House in support of President Obama's courageous speech on immigration reform. We applaud him again today, for with the Arizona lawsuit our president demonstrates he is willing to do everything in his power to maintain the integrity of our nation. Our core values and interests are at stake.
On the 4th of July, our nation celebrated its 234th birthday. This is a natural time in the rhythm of our life together to pause and remember our heritage -- our birthright. We are a nation of hard workers. We are a nation marked by creativity and a robust entrepreneurial spirit. And in the Declaration of Independence itself, Thomas Jefferson submitted the following major grievance against the crown of England as one of many justifications for the American Revolution. According to Jefferson, England was obstructing the migration and naturalization of foreigners in the Americas and that was grounds for a Tea Party! We are a nation of immigrants!
Plus, in a recent Open Letter to President Obama on Immigration Reform nearly 600 interfaith leaders from 40 states affirmed the common call of our faiths to renounce fear and exercise faith by embracing the immigrant within our borders.
Grounded in Genesis and carried through the last chapter of Revelation, my own evangelical Christian faith calls followers of Jesus to see all humanity as made in the image of God and worthy of intrinsic dignity and protection. As such, the basic needs of all human beings as outlined in Genesis 1:26-30 (e.g. life, food, land, work, and the ability to migrate) lay the biblical foundations for the basic rights of all humanity.
Genesis 1 is why God decrees in Leviticus 19:33-34, "When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the immigrant. The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
Genesis 1 is why Jesus holds no punches in Matthew 25 warning, if you fail to love of the least of the hungry, the thirsty, the abject poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the most foreign immigrant, then you will go to hell.
The Arizona law (SB1070) and its amendment are an affront to core American and religious values. Governor Brewer claims the amendment prevents racial profiling. It does not. Rather, its authors intentionally crafted a sly form of racial profiling powered by the inclusion of county and municipal statutes to the list of the kinds of laws that warrant a "lawful stop, detention, or arrest". Thus, under the current law and amendment, police officers can target households with too many residents, homes with cars on cinder blocks in the front driveway, or people with too many passengers in a car. In Arizona, these offenses are ones perceived to be committed most often by Latinos. This is racial profiling.
Again and again in the course of our nation's history, our core values have been challenged by core lies. Again and again we found ourselves standing at a fork in the road, faced with a choice: Would we believe the lie that some people are simply worth more than others? Or would we actually "hold these truths to be self-evident, that all human beings are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Faith leaders are not led by polls or swayed by the tides of public opinion. We answer to a higher authority and, as in years past, we stand together today holding a moral compass. So, today we echo our call from a week ago:
"President Barack Obama and both houses of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- in the coming days you will be tempted to fear the polls, but you have something greater to fear. Fear the judgment of history. There is such a thing as right and wrong. There is such a thing as betrayal of our nation's values. There is such a thing as an abdication of leadership that sacrifices American interests on the altar of political expediency."
On June 1, the delegation of Interfaith Leaders from New York -- arguably the first major border state -- represented the desires of the nearly 600 interfaith leaders who signed on to our Open Letter to President Obama. We hand delivered the letter to White House officials when we met with them. In addition, we sent copies of the letter to every member of Congress, calling them to do the right thing. If the responsibility for immigration reform is not with the states, then the president and Congress must find a pragmatic and moral solution to our dysfunctional immigration system with comprehensive reform.
The faith community will not let up. We see firsthand the brokenness of our system and its devastating effects on families across the country, and we will continue to be powerful advocates for comprehensive reform. During the month of July, in anticipation of the enactment of Arizona's law, faith-rooted actions will roll across the nation. They will include pulpit swaps where non-citizen immigrant faith leaders will swap pulpits with faith leaders who are citizens. Each will preach from the pulpit in support of comprehensive immigration reform; "not in our state" petitions; public vigils in support of Arizona and comprehensive immigration reform; and finally, there will be a major faith action at the end of the month if the Arizona law takes effect.
So, we thank you, Mr. President, and we implore you and Congress, don't turn back. Don't stall out. Protect our values and interests and keep letting your actions do the talking.
Lisa Sharon Harper is the executive director of New York Faith & Justice and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.