Before I begin, I want to be clear that I have a significant personal interest in immigration. Both of my maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States after WWI and my father’s family also traces its heritage overseas (though somewhat more distantly). My Mother-in-law is an immigrant and my wife and I filed all the paperwork, wrote all the checks and visited all the government offices necessary to adopt and naturalize our three children. Having said that, I also note that all of these immigrations followed the legal processes required by our government even when they were unpleasant, expensive and time-consuming.
There is a lot of talk about immigration lately, specifically, illegal immigration. Most of the voices are loud and, unfortunately, most are quick to dismiss and even disparage any differing points of view. As is the case with many of our political discussions of late, I suspect that we won’t travel very far in the right direction (if at all) unless we have an open mind are willing to hear – and listen to – arguments from both sides.
Arguments over immigration most often seem to center on “fairness” and “justice” and while are important principles, we cannot allow our personal view of fairness and justice to blind us to what is fair and just to others. A one-sided view of what is just abandons real justice before it begins. To be truly just and fair, again, we need to determine what is fair and just from (and for) all sides.
Lately, the furor began when the State of Arizona enacted a law that allows the state to enforce existing Federal immigration laws. Arizona has since been accused of being anti-immigration, racist, fascist, and worse. In their own defense, Arizona insists that it only did what was necessary to secure is borders and to protect its citizens. So what is the truth? Like many things, the truth is not so black and white and seems to be a stew created in the gray in-between.
Immigration has been a hot-button issue for a long time. For as long as I remember being politically aware (since the Reagan era and a little before) there has been no clear consensus on immigration, especially as it relates to our Southern neighbor, Mexico. What I do remember is that border states, like Arizona, have been asking the Federal government (the part of government that is constitutionally responsible for border security and enforcement) since before the Reagan administration and from every administration, Republican and Democrat, ever since. President Reagan was known to be one of those rare persons who was able to create legislation that had true bipartisan support. Immigration reform was among those laws that were passed under his watch. The Reagan era immigration reform provided amnesty to migrants who had become permanent residents in the United States and 1.7 million of the estimated 5 million illegal migrants became legalized American citizens.
The Reagan era amnesty law was a great bipartisan success, but is also believed to be one of the root causes of our current dilemma. In order to secure conservative support for a bill that included amnesty, promises were made to increase border security and to make it more difficult for employers to hire non-citizens. The stated goal was to reduce the numbers of illegal migrants and amnesty was intended to be a part of doing that. Since then, while the amnesty part of the law was very successful, the enforcement part has not and we’ve increased from 5 million illegal immigrants to 12 million. The law that was intended to reduce the problem did nothing and perhaps made it worse (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2008/jan/06/rudy-giuliani/yep-reagan-did-the-a-word/).
Today, we have pro-immigration voices shouting for more amnesty but those who have longer political memories see the world differently. If we remember the Reagan amnesty, a solution that clearly didn’t work, we might honestly question whether another amnesty program can be some kind of magic bullet.
Our church, The United Methodist Church, has been an advocate of social justice for over two hundred years and so it is naturally important to us to speak out for those who have no voice in our institutions and in our system of government. This view is not only the view of our founder, John Wesley but well established in scripture (Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 24:17). But again, we cannot choose to wave a banner of social justice without considering what is just for all parties involved.
(next week – Part 2)