When United Methodist Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño talks about tussling with political bigwigs on the topic of immigration reform, she is poised, yet forceful.
“Immigrants can stay as long as they don’t ask for more than we want to give them, and as long they keep serving our needs at whatever pittance of a pay we want to extend to them,” Carcaño said in an interview in her office here. As the first female Hispanic bishop elected in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, Carcaño has had a lot of practice keeping her cool, especially when it comes to discussing divisive politics.
“When people begin to say that’s not fair, that’s not just, then that ruffles feathers.”
A meeting today of faith leaders with the president on immigration reform opened and closed with prayer.
This was my prayer at the end:
Thank you Lord, for this circle of leaders around the table and how you have brought us together to help welcome the stranger in our midst — to fix this broken immigration system that breaks families and lives.
Thank you for the leadership of Barack Obama in making comprehensive immigration reform such a high priority in these critical months ahead. Guide and direct him to find a genuine bipartisan political path to accomplish something so important that has been needed for so long. We thank you for both the Republicans and Democrats who are coming together to make that possible.
In towns all across America, streets are not named after them. School children do not learn about them. No one waits in line to see the homes where they were born. They are ... simply forgotten.
They weren’t necessarily bad men. They weren’t unimportant men. They were men of influence, men with a voice and the respect of their community. Most would have agreed; they were good men, according to one, “men of genuine good will.” While evil men are remembered and great men are enshrined, these men … just forgotten.
They are forgotten for being on the wrong side of history. Men forgotten for being silent when “a word fitly spoken” could have made a difference. Men who are forgotten for valuing comfort and stability over justice and compassion. Forgotten because they were unwilling to call out the status quo, and show it for it was … cruel and unjust.
These are the eight men on the other side of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The recipients. Eight well educated white pastors, priests, and rabbis who by God’s providence led reputable congregations in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine courageously crawled under a Border Patrol truck. And he wasn't changing the oil. Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa was riding his bike to work when he came upon a scene that is all too common in southern Arizona, where racial profiling by the Tucson Police Department is permitted through the notorious legislation SB1070 and Border Patrol roam our streets. Multiple police cars and Border Patrol trucks were surrounding a vehicle apparently pulled over for traffic violation. When Raúl arrived, he saw five children crying for their father and a pregnant woman sitting terrified in the vehicle. Handcuffed and being transferred to Border Patrol custody was a Latino man named René.
Raúl had to think and act quickly, and he crawled under the Border Patrol truck. He began sending texts that spread quickly throughout a community protection network designed to alert community members and advocates about raids, abuse, and racial profiling by immigration and law enforcement. Media and supporters responded within minutes, just as Raúl was pepper sprayed, Tazed, and pulled out from under the vehicle. Both men spent the night in custody, and public demands were widespread for their release. While Raúl was released the next day, top officials of Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security ignored pleas for René to rejoin his family, and he was promptly deported to Mexico.
A common sentiment that’s expressed by both the left and the right on the issue of immigration reform is that immigrants need to prove their faithful adherence to the law and contribution to society before they’re put on some path to citizenship. It's redemption by works. It’s a reasonable means to verify their willingness to contribute to society. But a disconcerting irony dawned on me amid all this mutual give-and-take language we hear about immigrants; that is, many citizens themselves do not heed the same exhortation to contribute to their country today.
This is encouraged by the fact that citizenship today is identified entirely by a piece of paper, not by a way of life — by ink, not by deed. Although one’s citizenship technically includes a whole list of rights and duties, the fulfillment of these rights and duties is not a part of the identification process. This is understandable, as it’s very difficult to tell whether someone is trying to contribute to the state or merely trying to get what they can out of their legal privileges. I'm not out to start a Civil Reformation or something. But these thoughts have reminded me that the standard the Bible sets for Christian citizenship in heaven is something else entirely.
New Calvinists today have hammered home the doctrine of justification by faith through grace, not by works or legalistic moralism. Kingdom citizenship is claimed by faith in Christ. Got it.
Yet, Scripture is emphatic that Kingdom citizenship is not identified by faith alone, but also by works.
Our distaste for people who cut in line remains unchanged as we grow up. Whether someone gets to the front of the lunch line or the airport security check before us in an unfair way, our annoyance is raised. People who steal our parking spots during the Christmas season are the recipients of our worst thoughts. We might — just might — yell a string of expletives and death threats at anyone who has wronged us on the road or in a parking lot.
It’s not just about being orderly and following the rules. Instead, we rue the flouting of justice and fairness. I have been waiting patiently in line; what gives you the right to deem yourself better than me?
Yet if we’re honest, we will quickly realize that such outrageous reactions to outrageous behavior are no better than the line cutter or parking space thief. Moreover, our sense of injustice is quite attuned to moments of personal grievance even as we neglect how our actions may harm others. If anything, these moments of rage reveal much more about us than those we think have aggrieved us.
"'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you drink? And when was it that we saw yo a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"
--Matthew 25. 37-40
All this immigration talk reminds me of an encounter my wife and I had at a fast food restaurant in Atlanta. The night manager was Hispanic. He came by our table to make sure everything was all right. We started talking. I told him how troubled I was over our immigration debate.
That casual remark opened his door wide. He told me how scared many of his friends were. Some had already left the state. He told me they only wanted to work and send money back home where things were so tight. One very sick friend, he said would not go to the doctor or hospital because she was afraid of being deported. He told me he kept reading that these immigration laws had nothing to do with racial profiling.
He shook his head. “I have been stopped six times in the last few months mostly because I was Hispanic.”
The human community exists in perpetual motion; migration is a constant feature of our local and global reality. According to the International Organization for Migration, the total of international migrants increased from an estimated 150 million in 2000 to about 214 million in 2010, and the number of internal migrants (those who move within the borders of a given country) is about 750 million. These relocations are often related to the harsh consequences of war, environmental destruction, and economic downturn. As a result, those engaged in migration often do so for the sake of safety and opportunity, yet these potential rewards are sought in spite of deep personal and financial risk.
While the rates appear to be on the rise, the phenomenon as a whole is by no means exclusive to the present. The New Testament passage often known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” includes some of the harsh realities that are often associated with migration. One can examine this well-known parable through the lenses of migration, and in doing so, we are given insights in how to more faithfully extend hospitality to such strangers.
As Luke’s Gospel (15:11-32) reminds us, the youngest of two sons asked for an early inheritance from his father, received it, and then traveled to a “distant country” where he “… squandered his property in dissolute living.” As the term “dissolute” typically intends to describe degenerate and/or sinful behavior, we often conclude that the youngest son was deeply immersed in immorality, thus we find it difficult to feel sympathy when he later falls into the depths of poverty. We tend to perceive the prodigal son as someone who got what he deserved, for as the parable seems to illustrate, not only did he waste the inheritance received from his father, but he did so through sinful choices that brought deep dishonor to his family.
After taking my seat in a comfortably worn wingback chair, I immediately noticed a copy of Junot Diaz’s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. My eyes lit up. Having just picked it up the week prior, I suddenly felt an imagined literary kinship with him. Appropriately, Diaz’s novel leaned up against a worn collection of liberation theology.
“How do you like Diaz’s writing?” I asked, hoping a moment of shared appreciation for words and stories would calm my nerves a bit.
Over the past two years, an alliance of faith, law enforcement, and business leadership has come together to forge a new consensus on immigrants and America. These relationships have been built through outreach in the evangelical community; the development of state compacts in Texas, Indiana, Utah, and Iowa; and regional summits in the Mountain West, Midwest and Southeast, where faith, law enforcement and business constituencies are strongest and support for immigration needs a boost.
Sojourners has been an active partner in this new alliance. As a founding member of the Evangelical Immigration Table, we have worked to lift up faith voices in the immigration debate and drive a new immigration discussion based on moral values.
In order to build momentum and increase collaboration, we’ve launched "Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform" (BBB) as a national network of faith, law enforcement and business leaders working together to educate and support members of Congress. 2013 presents a major opportunity for immigration reform, and this rising network of allies will become a driving force in the renewed effort.
In the video below, Sojourners’ Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper discuss the importance of working with other constituencies to enact commonsense immigration reform.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
WASHINGTON — This passage from the Gospel of Matthew inviting us to welcome strangers into our midst could not be more salient than it is now, as our lawmakers embark on the long-awaited debate over immigration reform.
Senate hearings recently began after both President Obama and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida made a strong call for comprehensive immigration reform during and after the State of the Union address. Their statements were encouraging, but lawmakers have their work cut out for them in the coming months — and millions of lives depend on reform.
Here’s the missing piece: Any discussion of immigration reform must recognize the international causes that drive unauthorized migration to the United States: hunger, poverty, lack of economic opportunity and inequality. Without addressing the root causes, the numbers of unauthorized immigrants in the United States will continue to rise.
Migration Policy Institute (MPI) released its “Immigration Enforcement in the United States” report last month that reveals an increase in spending for the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) due to the “enforcement first” approach to immigration.
The report's findings are shocking. The U.S. government now spends more on immigration enforcement than on all other major federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined and immigration enforcement is the federal government's highest criminal law enforcement priority. Surprisingly, at a time when our government must be fiscally conservative and unauthorized immigration has abated, the call to increase spending on border enforcement is as loud as ever.
This increase in spending should guarantee better trained officers and ensure that the basic human rights of all people respected. However, according to various reports families are separated, victims of domestic violence do not receive the protection that they need, pregnant asylum seekers do not receive the prenatal care that they need, and children are held in detention centers with adults. Read here for more.
One angry constituent asked repeatedly where the “dang fence” that McCain had promised was. The senator turned to a chart illustrating how much fence had been constructed (hint: it’s a lot), and the man shot back that it was not a fence. “Oh, it’s not a fence?” McCain challenged. “OK, it’s a banana. We put up a banana with about $600 million of appropriations.”
Wow. Talk about laying down the law.
McCain even alluded to the work of the faith community on changing the message on immigration. Why are we not going to deport immigrants who have been living in the country for over 40 years? “Because we are a Judeo-Christian nation,” McCain affirmed. Mass deportation is contrary to our values.
"The old avocations by which colored men obtained a livelihood are rapidly, unceasingly and inevitably passing into other hands; every hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived emigrant, whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place."
“Learn Trades or Starve” (1853)
The Obama Administration and a bipartisan group in the Senate are making serious turns to tackle immigration reform. In addition to declaring that as citizens “our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others,” the president’s State of the Union address spoke of securing borders and decreasing the wait timeframe for the American residential legalizing process. Some 12 million women, men, and children across these United States await with bated breath to see what political deals will be made to construct either a pathway to citizenship or pave a road to deportation hell.
What is intriguing about the immigration conversation is that pundits tend to frame the argument in an "Us-versus-Them" fashion. Using rhetorical scare tactics, proponents for and against are not shy about disrobing a “more of them means less for us” stratagem. While much of this ploy has centered on how the massive number of “non-citizens” will subtract resources from persons of European descent, there is now a political stream that avers even sending “border breakers” to the back of the citizenship line will still reduce jobs among African-American low-wage earners. Words from Booker T. Washington, W.E.B DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and the quote from Frederick Douglass, among many others, are now resurfacing as a clarion call for African-Americans to think long and hard about getting on the “brown” bandwagon. Yet, none of the language from the aforementioned historical figures specially addresses Latino immigration.
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. — Hebrews 13:3
Where are defendants, who have committed no atrocious crimes, denied due process, shackled en masse before a judge, and sentenced during a trial of assembly-line justice? The answer: the daily proceedings in the federal courthouses of Tucson, Ariz., and a few other border locations. But anti-immigrant masterminds in Arizona did not think up this “zero tolerance” program. It is the result of powerful lobbying by private prison companies and our political willingness to harshly criminalize unauthorized migration.
Operation Streamline began in 2005 in Texas and 2008 in Arizona as part of the deterrence strategy of border enforcement. Instead of the typical civil violation, it charges people who cross the border without authorization with criminal misdemeanors (punishable by up to six months in federal prison) and then felonies (punishable 20 years) to those who return after a past deportation. Sen. John McCain, (R - Ariz.) has proposed an expansion of the program as part of immigration reform.
But according to a recent report, the federal government already has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in the criminal justice system for unauthorized entry and re-entry since 2005. Unauthorized entry/re-entry have recently become the two most prosecuted crimes in the entire federal judicial system. Consequently, Latinos now represent more than 50 percent of all those sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 16 percent of the U.S. population.
During the House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform last week, many of the committee members described the creation of a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans as a topic too “toxic” to even discuss. As a DREAMer, a Californian, and a civically engaged college student, I have painfully discovered that a major source of toxicity comes from members of Congress themselves.
Since learning in high school that I was undocumented, I’ve known that people struggled with the idea of undocumented Americans living and working alongside them. But I have never before experienced the kind of naked hostility I did when I attended a meeting in Washington to discuss citizenship legislation with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who represents my hometown in California’s 48th district.
I have lived in Costa Mesa since my parents brought our family here when I was 3 years old, and it is the only home I have ever known. I played in TeWinkle Park with my brothers and cheered for the Mustangs at Costa Mesa High School. I was a part of the Business Academy team that placed 5th in the nation my senior year. Now I am 18 years old, working and going to college full time. Last November I went door to door to encourage people who could vote to support more funding for our schools, and because of our civic engagement we showed that Californians care about education.
I work hard, I study hard, I pay taxes, and I have applied for the deferred action program that President Barack Obama instituted last year for young undocumented Americans like me.
There was truth tonight in the president’s State of the Union message.
There was truth that the rising costs of health care must indeed be addressed by serious reforms in our Medicare and healthcare system — but that it’s wrong to put most of that burden on vulnerable seniors, while protecting the most powerful special interests. Truth that you should not reduce the deficit by cuts in crucial investments in education, infrastructure, science, clean energy, or programs for the most vulnerable — but leave billions of dollars in tax loopholes and deductions for the wealthy and well-connected.
Truth in the compassionate and committed words about “poverty” and “poor” children and families who deserve our attention to find ladders up from poverty. Truth that no one who works full time in the wealthiest nation on earth should have to live in poverty but have a living wage. That quality pre-school should be available to every child in America to create stable and successful families.