Friday, July 30, 2010

The Immigration Fight Isn't Over - SojoMail 07.29.10





The Immigration Fight Isn't Over


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[Editor's Note: Jim Wallis is on a
well-deserved vacation for the next few weeks. Rev. Jennifer
Kottler, director of policy and advocacy at Sojourners, will be
writing the SojoMail column in his absence.]


Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton preliminarily struck
down key provisions
in Arizona’s infamous SB
1070
 law and ruled that states cannot preempt federal
law. While important, this is a victory that rings hollow for me
and all those who care about the true reform of our immigration
system. In many ways, the damage to neighborhoods and
communities had already been done, as people did not wait to see
how the law would affect them. Many mixed-status families pulled
their children out of school and moved out of state, closing
stores and restaurants and leaving many immigrant neighborhoods
like ghost towns. This did not just affect undocumented
immigrants but all those whose status might be called into
question -- including citizens, permanent legal residents, and
temporary visa holders.


The court’s preliminary decision is only the beginning
of the litigation process, which will unfold in the coming
months. Yesterday’s ruling, however, is a necessary first
step in affirming the principle that it is the federal
government’s responsibility to set immigration policy and
to enforce that policy. It affirms that even if the federal
system is failing, states do not have the authority to set or
enforce their own policies.


Immigration is continually labeled as an issue that "deeply
divides Americans." But is that true? Recent polling found
widespread support for a path to citizenship for undocumented
immigrants. A new study sponsored by America’s Voice found
that more than 75 percent of Americans who read a description of
comprehensive
immigration reform
 said they would support the measure.
And according to Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion
Research Institute, "More than 8-in-10 Americans -- including
overwhelming majorities of white mainline Protestants,
Catholics, and white evangelicals -- believe strongly that
immigration reform should be guided by the values of protecting
the dignity of every person and keeping families together, as
well as by such values as promoting national security and
ensuring fairness to taxpayers." There is a strong and growing
consensus around much of what needs to be addressed by
comprehensive reform.


It won’t be enough simply to enforce the laws we
already have. While we are indeed a nation of laws, we are also
a nation made up largely of immigrants and the progeny of
immigrants. Moreover, we are a nation made up largely of
Christians and people of other faiths -- faiths that teach and
compel their followers to care about what happens to the other,
and to honor the dignity of everyone created in the image of
God. Granted, there is a vocal minority opposed to reform. And
ironically, most -- if not all -- of the opponents are the
children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or
great-great-grandchildren of immigrants. Most of these
people’s ancestors would not have been able to immigrate
legally under our current system.


So now what? First of all, as November creeps closer,
Bolton’s decision assures that comprehensive immigration
reform as a moral issue will be front and center this election
season. But as people of faith, we must reject the use of this
issue to drive fear into the debate and pit citizen against
citizen, and citizen against immigrant. We have to reject the
politicization of this issue, and the use of immigrant families
as tools to win (or make the other lose) an election. And when
we see it happening, we need to call it out.


Secondly, it’s not enough to repeal the most
controversial parts of SB 1070, as important as that is. The
overall law still goes into effect today, which will lead to a
confusing patchwork of guidelines on the ground in Arizona. This
is a costly byproduct of enjoining the law, as law enforcement
will have to haphazardly interpret the remaining provisions.


Therefore, lawmakers must act to fulfill their duty to make
laws and set federal policy on immigration. It will take fewer
politicians and more statesmen and stateswomen to reform our
broken system. President Obama must lead on comprehensive
immigration reform, and Congress must be willing to lead as well
-- by having a fair and truthful debate on this issue and
passing a bipartisan bill that will be good for our country.
Clearly, the longer they wait, the more dysfunctional our system
becomes.


Finally, each of us needs to be willing to lead on this
issue. As difficult as it is to talk about issues like this with
our friends and families, we have a responsibility to challenge
falsehoods and myths about immigrants and talk about the
contributions they make to our communities. We need to transform
the rhetoric into truth. At the heart of our Christian tradition
is the belief that true and lasting transformation is not only
possible but necessary, and it can only happen when we are
willing to do what needs to be done for the common good.


While I was at an interview yesterday about the Arizona law,
I met a young woman. She asked me if I supported the Dream Act.
(The Dream Act would allow students who graduate from college or
go into the military the opportunity to become U.S. citizens.) I
told her that we did, and she responded with thanks. She said a
friend of hers just graduated from a prestigious East Coast
university at the top of his class, but because he was
undocumented, he is not able to get a professional job (despite
his intellect and gifts) or go to graduate school. Instead, he
is back home working in his family’s restaurant business,
and our country and society lose out because we aren’t
utilizing his gifts.


Also yesterday afternoon, children of immigrants -- mostly
U.S. citizen children, many or most of whom live in mixed-status
households --
held
a march
across from the White House to advocate for
comprehensive immigration reform. These children live in fear of
being separated from parents and family, many of whom came here
for work they couldn’t find in their own countries. They
came to provide for their families. They want what all parents
want -- for their children to be healthy and fed.


Transformation is not easy. In truth, it’s very, very
difficult. While we need the political will to transform our
society, and leadership to get it done, we also need to be
personally transformed, and we need to act as agents of
transformation. If we fail to think and act differently, if we
fail to change the way immigration is understood and debated in
this country, we will fail our neighbors, our children, and our
God. We have to choose to be transformed, and we have to choose
to be active participants in the transformation of our society
for good.


Rev. Jennifer Kottler is the Director of Policy and
Advocacy at Sojourners. A long-time advocate for justice,
Jennifer has served in advocacy ministry for more than seven
years through her work at Protestants for the Common Good
(Chicago, IL), the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, and
the Chicago Jobs Council.



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