Illegal immigration is a federal crime. Immigration law requires federal reform. Ever since 1952, when U.S. immigration law changed to allow non-whites to be naturalized as U.S. citizens (prior to 1952 only whites were allowed to be naturalized), U.S. immigration law has grown into a contradictory maze of policies and practices riddled by trade agreements and enforcement failures. Talk to any immigration attorney for more than ten minutes and your head will begin to spin. Our current system is simply unworkable!
Behind the statistics on those who have entered the U.S. illegally, overstayed their visas or committed visa fraud are real people with real lives who contribute to our gross national product. One example: Lisa was brought illegally into the U.S. when she was 3 years old. Since then she has received a free public school education and worked and paid taxes for 20 of her 35 years. Her family and life are here. Hers is a common story of how undocumented immigrants live alongside us creating enterprises and communities.
Early in his presidency, George W. Bush courageously set out to do immigration reform. His efforts got nowhere. Immigration reform is overdue!
And now we have Arizona’s Immigration Law SB 1070. All Latinos (and anyone that might look Latino) become suspect under this law and need to be able to prove their citizenship at any time. Were I to travel to Arizona, the fact that I speak English beautifully–it is my first language–might help, but who wants the humiliation of being stopped and asked, “Show me your papers?”
Now any local law enforcement can harass and persecute any Latino under the guise of following this law. There are some pretty toxic situations along the border of Arizona that are only fueled by this.
Churches doing as Jesus instructed, welcoming the stranger and doing for the least of these, are criminalized by SB 1070. The U.S. Catholic bishops stand in solidarity with the bishops of Arizona in opposing this, in their words, “draconian law.”
Perhaps Arizona’s clear racializing of immigration law will wake us all up. Maybe Congress will see the importance of moving forward with well thought out, greatly needed immigration reform. Maybe we will all take a closer look at how the U.S. economy has required the exploitation of undocumented immigrants for generations, for both our daily food and our daily conveniences.
Perhaps Arizona’s attack on brown-skin Latinos will cause us all to consider that the solutions for this present drama and suffering lie within us.
And hopefully, we will respond.
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice, Women of the ELCA.