Immigration Legislation: What does the new Arizona law communicate? Framing the discussion in unfortunate ways.
Apr 29, 2010 by M. Daniel Carroll R. | 2 Comments
It is the news. It is making the rounds on radio talk shows and the television news networks. The “IT,” of course, is the legislation signed into law last Friday by the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer. This is not the place to rehearse its contents; others—newspapers, magazines, internet resources—have done that. But it is safe to say that it is the strictest (some say draconian) legislation directed at undocumented immigrants in the country to date.
Those of us who are involved in some fashion in the push toward comprehensive immigration reform are hearing accounts of fear and intimidation coming out of that state. Hispanics are already being stopped and asked for identity papers; families are packing up and leaving their homes; congregations have already lost members and leaders who are fleeing Arizona; ministries that work within Hispanic neighborhoods are trying to cope and pastor the many who are worried about driving to work, school or church… the stories are many and will increase over he next few weeks.
There are many ways to approach this law and criticize it for its potential violation of human dignity, racial profiling, constitutionality and the like. I would like to return to something I said in an earlier blog:
“Laws reflect the values of a nation. The laws of Israel were to demonstrate compassion to those in need... This ultimately was because God himself loves these people (Deut. 10:17-19). In other words, the Old Testament Law was to reflect the very heart of God and his values. Here then is a test for any nation: How do the laws treat the vulnerable in its midst? Is the engagement with those from the outside for exploitation and pushing them to the margins as inferior persons? Or, do the laws extend a hand in charity and justice to those who struggle?”
What does the Arizona legislation say about us as a nation? Where is our heart? What do we value, and what measures are we willing to put into law to protect what we value? God loves the vulnerable; is this nation instead singling out the vulnerable to exclude them and drive them away or further into the shadows?
The Arizona legislation has reduced the complexities of immigration to the issue of national security and criminality. Now the discussion there is framed around these two topics, and other key matters such as human dignity and the sacredness of the family are pushed to the side. Is national security an item to be handled? Of course it is (drug trafficking, violence, etc.); but national security cannot dominate the debate. Of the hundreds of thousands in Arizona who are undocumented, how many are involved in these kinds of activities? How do the new laws deal with education, health, and work issues? This kind of reductionism is shortsighted and polarizing; it is counterproductive and harmful to the immigrant and to the national ethos alike.