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When Extremism is The Easy Path

More than once in this forum I’ve complained about political moderates who feign intellectualism, by answering either sides’ argument with a thoughtful “Well, on the other hand….”.   For once though, I’m frustrated enough at both extremes on an issue to be driven to think of a new way.  I wouldn’t call it moderate.  I’d call it intentional.

For a few weeks I’ve listened to both sides of the issue rail about immigration – or more properly described, people sneaking across the border.   Immigration is a legal process, albeit slow and arduous.  Sneaking is just that – sneaky.  Also, let me say that I lean hard toward the law and order side of the debate…but I’m pretty embarrassed by those who would claim to represent me.

Driving the debate to the surface (it’s always brewing, but most of the nation can ignore it, cushioned by nations like Texas) are two major news happenings.

This is Alabama – We speak English

Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James is all over the interwebs with a new video advertisement, pledging to print the Alabama drivers test in English only.  James is very concerned about people driving around rural Alabama singing along with their radios in languages other than proper English.   I raise the following questions:

First, Mr. James, how many people – including native Alabamaniacs – are speaking proper English already?  One word:  “Ya’ll”.  Or…two words.  We’re not sure.  Let’s just say that this sudden commitment to the Queens English seems a little out of place coming from your neck of the woods….ya’ll.  Did I use that right?

Additionally, my family immigrated legally in the early 1900’s.  They came with nothing, burned the wagons for firewood, dug a hole on the warm spot on the ground and lived in until spring.   They scratched out an existence in the North Dakota topsoil, one of the few places left to homestead.  Winters were long, work was hard, but they did their part, paid their taxes, worshiped their God and took care of one another, almost entirely in German.  They were legal, but it really took a few decades before they made the full transfer to English.   Would they have been welcome to do this in Alabama?

Legal or illegal status is the question – not language.   The only reason for a political candidate to raise this non-issue is to play to his base, assuming his base is already afraid of people who are different to them.  He won’t save much money – in fact, he’ll lose some federal funding.

Mr. James, I probably agree on you with a lot of other issues, but this is America.  We use sense.  And we can do better than this.

One more thing, if you make this change, make sure everyone driving out of the executive exit of the Hyundai plant in Montgomery is singing along in English….unless this is just about Latinos (or other groups who don’t pay with American Express).

Show me the paper.

Let me say, Arizona has gotten the short hotdog at the Federal Cookout for Immigration.  Somehow the feds decided if we tightened up the borders of Texas and California, the illegals would turn around.  They merely moved to the center and started crossing the more dangerous Arizona frontier.

In response, Arizona has passed a fairly sweeping law that, among other things, requires law enforcement officers who suspect someone of being an illegal alien to present their immigration papers.   Presumably, if they cannot produce them, they are arrested.

Is this constitutional?  Probably so.  Is it uniformly enforceable?  Not a chance.  The law isn’t even in effect yet and various county sheriffs are announcing publicly if they’ll enforce or ignore it.  Major urban areas like Tuscon and Phoenix are opting out (when did we allow a sheriff to opt out of enforcing a law?).

My real pain over this is that we’re seeing extremely simplistic answers from both sides.   Again, this comes from someone who even two years ago would have said “if you can’t prove citizenship, you’re on the next train out of here…”.  Then, in a late night coffee session with a Latino pastor (legal citizen for those who are wondering), I began to look at it another way.

He said  “Your perspective, if universally applied, would mean every family in my church of several hundred would lose an uncle, father, grandparent, etc…who have been in this country illegally for 20 years, married a citizen, and had children.    Your perspective is probably totally legal.  But does is serve the greater good to disrupt so many peaceful families?”

It doesn’t serve their good.  It doesn’t even serve the good of US border communities to recklessly send them all back.  Stop them at the border?  Certainly.  But take the guy who came across decades ago and deport him, making his US born children defacto orphans?  That can’t be good for the children or for the United States.

The Bible says much about how we treat aliens.  Most of it runs along these lines;  “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.” – Leviticus 19:33.     To be fair, these aliens were legal (or at least not illegal in the sense that they skirted a border outpost).   To be equitable to the other side, this problem is decades old and multi-generational in impact.  We can’t pretend that everyone we’re deporting is a 20 year old meth head.

I don’t have clear answers on all this.  My point is to suggest that we need to talk about it more thoughtfully than we are.   One side is screaming vengeful bumper sticker fodder about ridding our borders of those scary people different from us.  The other side insists we throw open the borders and hand out healthcards to people as they towel off on our side of the Rio Grande.

We really like distinct borders.  Sometimes, the middle ground is the hardest to find.


12 Responses

  1. I live in north Texas, and I’m in the stop-them-at-the-border camp. Our local culture is being swallowed alive and replaced with a new one due to the rate at which our population is absorbing these immigrants. Texas was Mexican to begin with until the battle at San Jacinto and mexican american war. They have every right to be here as any other race/nationality. I love my Mexican neighbors. They are wonderful friendly people, and take great care of their properties. But something must be done to slow the influx, and I think the legal immigration process would be the way.

  2. The really simple answer still solves the problems. Tighten the borders. If they’re in, they’re in. I treat them nicely while they’re hear. But at the same time, we cannot have a bilingual nation. (look at [rattles off list of european countries plus Canada]). I don’t want them to learn to speak English because I’m afraid of people different from me, nor do I want them to speak English because I feel I’m superior to them. I want them to speak English because the majority in America still speaks it.

  3. Tightening the borders, stop them at the border, a friendship fence….yes, all logical – but it doesn’t deal with the ones already here.

    Also, in 99% of America, an immigrant will have to learn to speak English to better themselves. I’m not sure a drivers license bureau is the best sort of self help motivation though. It’s a backwards way of doing it, and the quick and easy answers provided in political campaigns are rarely more than someone pandering to his fear base.

  4. Nothing says fascism like “Show me your papers!”

  5. Thanks for your views! I fall among those lines myself. My biggest concern which I am sure your pastor friend brought it up is that we need to represent Christ in all of this. Our ultimate allegience is to Jesus and if there is any view that would hinder our witness to others (in this case Latinos) it might be best to simply keep certain views to one’s self or at best change in away that still benefits this country but also benefits the gospel. At least that is what I think. I’m glad that the Lord showed you a different perspective on this issue and that you allowed yourself to learn. Blessings. 🙂

  6. For the record, “y’all” is a contraction. It is the shortening of “you all” and proper grammar suggests that the apostrophe goes where the letters are left out, thus, the proper spelling is “y’all”.

  7. And nothing says “I oversimplify!” like tossing the fascism grenade.

  8. Wonder what would happen if we believed that God has answered our intercession and brought the oppressed and hurting and we responded in a biblically scandalous fashion and took care of the foreigner. But we know we don’t actually follow the Bible in real life issues. That’s just for something to teach at church.

  9. First, I gotta say, PJ, you’re my hero. “y’all” all the way.

    I’m currently in Texas but from Arizona.
    As far as I’ve understood, All that the Arizona law has done was allowed the state cops to enforce what is already federal law. The motivation I’ve understood behind it is that it allows them to tighten up the border that the federal government will not tighten up for them.

    A cop can’t just pull someone over and ask for their papers. There has to be the commission of some crime, granted that could be something like a minor road offense or something, but those grandfathers and uncles and such don’t have to worry about being deported if they don’t get stopped by a cop. I know that opens the doors up for the racial profiling argument that they might be more likely to be stopped by a cop for something minor just to be asked for their papers, and all I can say about that is that kind of thing was going on before this law and it’s just not a good thing.
    As for people being up in arms about people being asked for their papers to prove their right to be in the country, I know that when I get in my car I had better well bring my legal document that shows my right to be behind the wheel and my legal proof that my car is insures so that if I am driving suspiciously a cop can clarify that I actually am certified to drive on the road. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

  10. I find this too, to be a frusterating issue. I have worked with the same Latinos in a retail restrauant setting for 4 years. We are friends. They are not here to run me out of the country. They are not here to take over our culture and make us learn Spanish. They are here because(until recently) we had a better economy and much better jobs. One was here to save up money so he could go home, and buy a truck and start his own business. As far as I know they were all legal. But, I know that most of them knew someone in the country that wasn’t legal. I had one tell me about how his brother in law was being deported, and his wife was calling him, asking him to do something. So, what do we do? I agree with the Latino pastor; breaking apart families will do no good. But, what happens to the people that have been here so long illegally?
    I the tighten-the-borders idea, but I feel squeemish about a fence. It feels like Lady Liberty’s arms are not so open anymore.

  11. my qualifications: Arizonan for over 40 years and my parents both immigrated here (my father’s people undocumented, as in no papers, over 2000 years ago and my mother’s about 80 years ago.)

    Here are my comments on this issue:

    1.) Welcome to Alabama, we speak English- seriously? When English speaking undocumented immigrants came over, about 500 years ago – they drastically changed the culture, the language, the religion, the landscape, the flora and even the fauna. One could even say you reap what you have sown Mr. James. (P.S. even the word Alabama is a Native American word – as in NOT an English word)

    2.) Does anyone realize the irony of keeping the original peoples out of the land that was formerly theirs? We moved them out…

    3.) Yes, I have lived next door to a house with 15 young undocumented men, who drank, used drugs, played music loud, worked hard, and scared me. I went over with brownies and high school Spanish. They bought over tamales, helped us pour concrete, let us tell them about Jesus, and often disappeared in the night. And yes some nights I was really glad that I had a big dog and a husband by my side. But what the Bible had to say about strangers and aliens provoked me to be open to love and overcome my fears.

    4.) Yes, I have to carry papers to all of the countries I visit. I do think laws should be obeyed. I do believe we need immigration reform to address the issues. I am actually not as opposed to the law as i am to the attitudes behind it. I fear at times that Americanism and Christianity have become synonymous for many fellow believers and that concerns me. Just what was the message of hospitality about in Matthew again? Was it only for papered people?

    I smell ‘nation rising up against nations’ here and I think we need to stop as Believers, ask the Lord to examine our hearts and to grant us wisdom as to how to best proceed instead of hiding behind the laws and bigotry of this world.

  12. When my mother posted this link on her FB page, I rolled my eyes..expecting a “deport them all” article. You see, my husband is Mexican…a permanent U.S. resident and on his path to citizenship. On the other hand, my sister-in-law, his wife, and their two young children were living in Arizona illegally and were deported. They’re deportation did not anger or surprise them, it’s a risk they took.

    I believe their story probably represents many illegal immigrants in this country, and no…they are not the 20 year old meth heads we don’t want here. Jaime worked as a construction worker, Cecilia cleaned offices at night. Both used false identification to get their jobs, both paid taxes. Vanessa was two and Marta was seven. Marta went to public school. The family did not take any public assistance, as none is available to illegal immigrants. They lived in AZ for three years. They were stopped while at the grocery story in 2006 for a cracked windshield and could not produce papers. Mom and dad were handcuffed. The police officers did not realize Marta was fluent in English. This is the first time she heard the words “f**kin wetback”.

    Immigration is a very very complex issue. And you’re right, there’s no simple solution. I get very alarmed when people say deport them all. They are many sides to illegal immigration. On one hand, the make valuable financial contributions in the form of taxes, social security they’ll never collect, purchased goods, and property. On the other hand, we see things like Medicaid being used for the care of children. I believe in my soul that the “deport them all” attitude is an un-Christian attitude and borders on fear of a new culture or people and many times is simply racist. The fact remains there are many many children who were brought her as infants and English is their second language and America is their home.

    We need a realistic reform that allows people to come here legally. Right now it’s extremely difficult for a poor Latino to obtain a visa. One must have a company sponsor them for a work visa and the U.S. limits those numbers. Obtaining a regular visa is impossible. And you’re correct, closing off the border without reforming the immigration process makes a desperate people even more desperate.

    I think if we truly listen to what Christ tells us about neighbors, love,compassion, and tending to our own flock….we’ll find the answers.

    I applaud you for understanding there is a very human side to this sensitive issue and while open borders is not the solution, neither is deporting every single illegal alien.

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