Since Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 in April, the faith community’s moral witness against this anti-immigrant bill and for comprehensive immigration reform has been consistent and powerful. This afternoon, United States District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction against many of the law’s most troubling provisions, including:
- Requiring a police officer to make a reasonable attempt to check the immigration status of those they have stopped;
- Forbidding police from releasing anyone they have arrested until that person’s immigration status is determined;
- Making it a violation of Arizona law for anyone not a citizen to fail to carry documentation;
- Creating a new state crime for trying to secure work while not a legal resident;
- Allowing police to make warrantless arrests if there is a belief the person has committed an offense that allows them to be removed from the United States.
University of Arizona law professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin told the Arizona Star that the ruling is “virtually a complete win for the United States” and that the “heart of SB1070 has been enjoined.” Although the ruling prevents many discriminatory measures from taking effect, an aspect of the law vigorously opposed by faith leaders will still be enacted. Harboring or transporting an immigrant who is in violation of immigration laws will still be unlawful. Giving an undocumented immigrant a ride in a church van, for example, will be illegal. Even hosting undocumented immigrants in worship services or providing them with church-based social services could be outlawed, according to Rev. Jan Olav Flaaten, executive director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council. Jenny Hwang, Director of Advocacy and Policy for the Refugee and Immigration Program at World Relief recently wrote:
Asking for someone’s legal status was never a requirement for a church to serve those in need, but because this law makes so many of the activities that churches engage in illegal, many churches will be forced to choose between following what they feel like God has called them to do (serving immigrants in their communities) and disobeying the Arizona law, or obeying the Arizona law and not being able to carry out what they feel is so central to their identity as a faith-based organization.
While today’s federal court ruling provides a welcome (if temporary) delay of numerous discriminatory policies, it also leaves in place measures that threaten not only undocumented immigrants, but also those who aid them.
The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has a post on The Hill’s Congress Blog today which contains several common, inaccurate arguments against comprehensive immigration reform. It goes even further though, by making an evangelical case for… well, cruelty.
On the matter of how to address the millions of people who are here in violation of America’s immigration laws, Fishcer proposes:
We should instead deal with the 12 to 20 million illegals [sic] currently in the country through attrition, by making access to any taxpayer-funded resource — whether education, welfare or healthcare — contingent upon proof of legal residency.
Once illegals realize they will be sent home the moment they come to the attention of any government agency or any branch of law enforcement, they will immediately stop being a drain on taxpayer resources and will be the most law-abiding residents we have.
Note how Fischer euphemizes the denial of people’s most basic needs by using the clinical-sounding term “attrition.” What he’s really proposing is inflicting so much suffering on his brothers and sisters that they will return to the poverty and lack of opportunity they came to America to overcome. Although Fischer sprinkles individual Bible verses throughout his essay to support various arguments that few people contest (for example, citing Acts 17:26 to support the right to secure the border), he doesn’t offer any Biblical support for his proposal to deny people education, medicine, housing and food – probably because there isn’t any. (As an aside, I’d suggest that if Fischer is convinced of the righteousness of his stance, he should stand guard in the hospital doors himself and turn away a mother and her seriously ill children because she can’t prove her citizenship.)
And regarding the issue of the families torn apart by deportation, Fischer suggests:
Enforcing our immigration policy need not break up families. The president sent spouses and children along when he deported the Russian spies, and we can do the same with every illegal alien. We do not want to separate husbands from wives, or children from parents, so our policy should be to repatriate entire families together to preserve family integrity.
At a pro-immigration reform rally in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday, a mother and her two American-citizen daughters (ages 10 and 5) shared the story the girls’ father’s ongoing incarceration for re-entering the country illegally. That’s a violation of the law, and violating the law needs to have consequences. However, deportation of the entire family crosses the threshold of cruel and unusual punishment. If we’re serious about valuing family unity, wouldn’t a simpler, cheaper, fairer, more compassionate solution be to hold the father accountable for his actions, while giving him an opportunity to raise his daughters, support his family, earn a wage and contribute to our economy and his community?
That’s exactly what moderate and conservative evangelical leaders are calling for, and what prompted Fischer’s piece. And the contrast between the measured, compassionate, and practical approach taken by the likes of Leith Anderson (of the NAE) and Matt Staver (of Liberty Counsel) and the cruel one Fischer advocates couldn’t be more striking.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law held an “ethics of immigration reform” hearing, to which they invited faith leaders and advocates from both sides of the issue to offer moral and religious perspectives on various reform proposals. In his opening statement, Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) made the dubious claim that people of faith support an enforcement-only approach to immigration, rather than a comprehensive approach, and drew on a methodologically flawed Zogby poll – which we have debunkedbefore – to make his case.
The Zogby poll– sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies, whose fellow James R. Edwards spoke at yesterday’s hearing to urge delay of any immigration reform based on faulty economic arguments about unemployment– falls far short of industry standards . The poll relies on an opt-in online panel that is not representative of the general US population and also employs problematically worded questions. A national survey (PDF) released by Public Religion Research Institute in March, and conducted in accordance with the gold standards of polling (a scientific random sample), finds that people of faith from all religious groups support comprehensive immigration reform over enforcement-only policies by two-to-one margins.
The CIS/Zogby poll was also front-and-center in a “Dear Colleague” letter Rep. Lamar Smith sent to all Members of Congress, further circulating misinformation about people of faith’s perspectives on the issue. On a day when numerous faith leaders offered powerful testimony in support of comprehensive reform, it was unfortunate to see their opponents deploy faulty data to undermine their arguments.
When Bill O’Reilly asked Sarah Palin what she would do about illegal immigration if she were president, her response sounded an awful lot like an endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform. While she at first fell back on the old “secure the border” card, when pushed about what to do with the complicated situation of people already living in the US illegally, she said,
“Then we won’t complicate it anymore, let’s keep it simple, and let’s say no. If you are here illegally, and, um, if you don’t follow the steps that through immigration reform we’re going to be able provide and that is, is to somehow allow you to work if you’re not going to do that then you will be deported, you will be gone.”
As the president illustrated in his speech two weeks ago and as we’ve discussed in the past, comprehensive immigration reform is not about blanket amnesty. Rather, it is about restoring the rule of law so people can follow steps to citizenship, which Palin herself seems to support. When not allowed the crutch of “securing the border” rhetoric, some opponents of immigration reform just may begin to realize that comprehensive immigration reform isn’t so bad after all.
Catholics, mainline Protestants, Latino and white evangelicals, and Jews have all received extensive media coverage of their work to pass urging passage of comprehensive immigration reform this year. Now another group is gaining attention – African-American Protestants.
A great New York Times story about interfaith support for immigration reform in Houston prominently mentioned black churches, and Time, Associated Baptist Press, and Christian Post have all covered the unprecedented leadership from African-American faith leaders standing alongside racially, politically and theologically diverse leaders to make an urgent call for reform that protects our values and our interests as a nation. Good to see that Christian leaders are taking such a proactive stance to dispel long-assumed myths of a “black-brown” divide on this issue