The latest issue of The Christian Century magazine includes an interview with Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor and leader in the sanctuary movement. This is a good starting point for understanding both the history and the present focus of the sanctuary movement. Salvatierra offers a measured, reasonable, nuanced, and faithful vision of a distinctively Christian response to the contemporary debate over immigration policies and practices. Here is an excerpt:
Most people know that our immigration system is ineffective. If you take a step closer to it, you find out that it is illogical, and if you take another step closer, you find out that it is inhumane. Many of us are not looking for open borders; we believe that a country has the right to an immigration system. But we want an immigration system that is effective, logical, fair, and humane, and ours is none of the above. It is a crazy patchwork of laws, many of which break apart families and penalize the kinds of people we want in our country.
For example, since 1995 the United States has allowed a total of 5,000 visas per year for unskilled workers. But for years this country has imported most of its agricultural workers. More than 80 percent of the agricultural workers are currently immigrants. But only 5,000 are allowed to come legally — plus there is a guest worker program that covers about 200,000 people. We need far more workers than that. As the Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has pointed out, we say, “Come, we need your labor” on the one hand, “but we are not going to give you any status” on the other.
As a result of these aspects of the system, about 12 million people are working in the shadows. Ninety percent of undocumented men are working. They are here because the country needs their labor. They’ve been here for decades and have kids who are citizens. In 1995, the United States decided that children could only petition for citizenship for their parents in extreme and unusual circumstances. So there are many families in which the parents are working but undocumented.
Here is an excerpt from a recent report by Jim Wallis from Phoenix, Arizona. May the followers of Jesus in our own day echo the words of Peter and John and the other apostles: “We must obey God, not men.”
I got up at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning to fly to Phoenix, Arizona, to speak at a press conference and rally at the State Capitol at the invitation of the state’s clergy and other leaders in the immigration reform movement. The harshest enforcement bill in the country against undocumented immigrants just passed the Arizona state House and Senate, and is only awaiting the signature of Governor Janet Brewer to become law.
Senate Bill 1070 would require law enforcement officials in the state of Arizona to investigate someone’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be undocumented. I wonder who that would be, and if anybody who doesn’t have brown skin will be investigated. Those without identification papers, even if they are legal, are subject to arrest; so don’t forget your wallet on your way to work if you are Hispanic in Arizona. You can also be arrested if you are stopped and are simply with people who are undocumented — even if they are your family. Parents or children of “mixed-status families” (made up of legal and undocumented, as many immigrant families are out here) could be arrested if they are found together. You can be arrested if you are “transporting or harboring” undocumented people. Some might consider driving immigrant families to and from church to be Christian ministry — but it will now be illegal in Arizona.
For the first time, all law enforcement officers in the state will be enlisted to hunt down undocumented people, which will clearly distract them from going after truly violent criminals, and will focus them on mostly harmless families whose work supports the economy and who contribute to their communities. And do you think undocumented parents will now go to the police if their daughter is raped or their family becomes a victim of violent crime? Maybe that’s why the state association of police chiefs is against SB 1070.
This proposed law is not only mean-spirited — it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe. This radical new measure, which crosses many moral and legal lines, is a clear demonstration of the fundamental mistake of separating enforcement from comprehensive immigration reform. We all want to live in a nation of laws, and the immigration system in the U.S. is so broken that it is serving no one well. But enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable. And enforcement of this law would force us to violate our Christian conscience, which we simply will not do. It makes it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona.
I have to admit to mixed feelings about the debate over immigration policies.
On the one hand, the biblical message of welcome for the foreigner, of ready hospitality offered to one’s neighbor, any neighbor, “neighbor” by the broadest definition of the word, is clear and strong. God’s bias toward kindness and generosity and non-discrimination is unmistakable.
On the other hand, I believe in following the law. I try to “do the right thing,” to “do it by the rules.” It is difficult for me to rouse sympathy for those who intentionally violate the law and then expect to be excused.
On the other hand, ignoring the law may well be the just thing to do if the law is unjust. Is immigration law itself a “fence” around the United States, a law that requires years and years and years before even entertaining the possibility of gaining citizenship? We call ourselves “a land of opportunity,” but turn back the ones seeking opportunity.
… unless of course we have need of their cheap labor. Illegals are illegal, unless they are good for business, in which case we are ready to look the other way!
I would be interested in your comments, especially from those of you who may know more about immigration law than I do.