In the contentious debate on immigration reform, undocumented immigrants are often the target of rhetorical attacks. Our political leaders fail to understand the contributions they make to our communities and economy. Too often their words deny the humanity and God-given dignity of our brothers and sisters.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is perhaps the most notorious for inflammatory, misinformed attacks on immigrants. He has derogatorily compared them to “dogs” and recently claimed that DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, were drug runners with “calves the size of cantaloupes.” For far too long statements such as these have been tolerated in our society, as we have accepted the demonization of people out of racial fear and for the sake of political gain.
This behavior is to be expected by politicians who are motivated by self-interest but it should not go unchallenged by people of faith. Our values of civility and belief that every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) regardless of immigration status requires us to speak out when people are attacked, especially by those we’ve empowered to represent us in Washington.
We need to talk about every aspect of immigration reform. Serious policy proposals should be discussed and debated. There are different ways of addressing this issue.
But we can’t ignore the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country — our friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, and church members — who live in constant fear of their lives being torn apart because our leaders refuse to find common ground ways of fixing our broken immigration system.
That’s why Sojourners has released a powerful video telling the story of Pastor Juan Luis Barco, an undocumented minister following God’s call and faithfully serving a congregation. We especially want elected officials like Rep. King and those who share his views to hear this message, so we launched the video as a TV ad running across his district.
Pastor Barco’s powerful story reminds us that the Gospel transcends the human-created boundaries that divide us, while forcing us to recognize the humanity of immigrants regardless of their documentation status. It should also cause us to think more critically about the negative stereotypes that are often heard about undocumented immigrants, for the reality is dramatically different. Our undocumented brothers and sisters make substantial contributions to our economy, strengthen the bonds of our communities, and serve as leaders in our churches and congregations.
Acknowledging these truths does not deny another reality. Common-sense immigration reform that includes a path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants needs to also uphold the rule of law. Respecting the legal statutes of our nation is a reason for reforming our immigration system, not an argument against it. The status quo is unworkable. Undocumented immigrants, such as Pastor Barco, don’t want to live in the daily fear of being torn apart from their families and removed from a country that has become home. They want an opportunity get right with the law but Congress has refused to come up with a way for them to do so.
Business and labor leaders, entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, Christians of all stripes, members of the law enforcement community, and prominent elected officials from both political parties have urged Congress to pass immigration form. Polls constantly show a majority of Americans agree. It is time to stop attacking immigrants and for the House of Representatives to address immigration reform.
Ivone Guillen is immigration campaign associate for Sojourners.