Yesterday, May Day, we witnessed some of the largest demonstrations of immigrants on American soil. The masses of mostly brown skinned activists and their followers were protesting what they consider unjust immigration policy and practice in the United States of America. Strewn conspicuously throughout the congregants, one couldn't help but notice church banners, crosses and other religious symbols. It would seem we are witnessing faith-based immigration reform activism. Does this mean God is on the side of the protesters?
Seeing these demonstrations on television, my thoughts darted back and forth between the immigration arguments of social conservatives, with their focus on the respect for law and national security (both of which are good objectives), and their liberal counterparts, with their focus on the protection of human rights (also a very good thing).
I believe the immigration reform logjam we now encounter is due in great part to the false premise that the good immigration objectives of the conservative movement are incompatible with the good objective, in this case, of liberal activists. When religious leaders or institutions give priority to the defense of human rights (as they should), this false premise becomes even more compelling. After all, have you ever seen a priest or a pastor protesting illegal border crossing? There is a reason for this, but it's not what most would think.
No, God is not in favor of illegal behavior and dangerous borders. But given a church's spiritual and humanitarian role, it is right and understandable that it speaks out with special force against the miserable conditions of the immigrants whom companies and governments are utilizing for economic gain. This moral voice, however, mustn't be one-sided. Just as every immigrant has a right to be treated with dignity, every government has the right and obligation to regulate immigration to sustainable levels, for the good of its own citizens and its immigrants. Religious leaders should be saying this too, don't you think? Why aren't they? Some are.
This one-sidedness is particularly evident in partisan politics. Democrats have done a better job making themselves into the good guys in public opinion by rightly criticizing the administration for a hypocritical system of random and sporadic crackdowns on illegal workers. But Republicans rightly complain that, in fact, the Democrats aren't really the moral puritans they profess to be because they refuse to control the borders and penalize employers.
The truth of the matter, one that both parties should be able to agree upon in principle, is that the dark side of immigration activism is the pursuit of some good objectives to the exclusion or vilification of others. Wouldn't it be nice to hear a Democratic pundit (or priest or pastor) on cable television or talk radio speak about the importance of the respect for law, not as a concession to the opponent, but rather as a conviction of their own? And wouldn't it be refreshing to hear from a Republican pundit that no love for law or security is ever a valid excuse for treating people like animals, or slaves?
Republican and Democratic administrations and legislative majorities have been guilty of hypocrisy and complacency. Our politicians on both sides of the aisle have feigned interest in rectifying our present immigration crisis, while cuddling up to the beneficiaries of cheap labor made possible by porous borders and paralyzed structures.
Social conservatives and liberals alike would be wise to re-examine their approach to our present crisis of illegal immigration. God is on the side of human rights and also on the side of legality and security. It is our problem if we choose one over the other and pretend that we are righteous.
God bless, Father Jonathan
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