Thursday, June 23, 2011

Does Waiting Really Help Illegals?

According to Merriam-Webster, "repatriation" means "to restore or return to the country of origin, allegiance, or citizenship."

That's my simple answer to the politically-charged debate over illegal immigration in the United States. It's not pretty, it's not popular, and it's not perfect, but it's more practical than you may think.

Repatriation isn't so much a punishment as it is the correction of a wrong. There is no lengthy prison sentence, denial of constitutional protocols, or any contravention of human rights.

It doesn't fill up our prisons, or encourage the "anchor baby" phenomenon which has enflamed passions over birthright citizenship. Nor does it perpetuate the English-as-a-Second-Language experiment, which not only ill-prepares children of illegals for being productive Americans, but creates a divisive environment when it comes to apportioning ever-dwindling education funds.

Waiting to Learn this Lesson

Ahh, yes: education.

You know, the more I think about the plight of Jose Antonio Vargas, the journalist who confessed to being an illegal immigrant, and about whom I wrote yesterday, the more I think the people who helped him conceal his true status actually contributed to his predicament today.

By refusing to confront Vargas' illegitimate residency, they kicked the ball of legal reality further down the road of consequences. Perhaps they believed that illegal immigration shouldn't be illegal, or that it wasn't their place to enforce federal laws. But despite Vargas' admiration of those teachers, they really did him a big disfavor.

Should being a bright student, as Vargas was, be sufficient exoneration for being here illegally? I'm not saying that his teachers should have callously reported him to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), but shouldn't they, if they really cared about him, have worked with Vargas and his grandparents to get Vargas on the path to proper citizenship or residency?

If that involved repatriating Vargas back to the Philippines, albeit an undesirable scenario for his family, wouldn't that better prepare Vargas for a productive career with an American company in the future? Isn't that what schools are supposed to do: prepare kids for their future? Instead, waiting for somebody else - either our politicians or our society at large - to somehow fix Vargas' dilemma hasn't ended up solving anything.

Alabama, Y'All Ain't Helpin'

And speaking of dilemmas, it doesn't help that earlier this month, the state of Alabama passed what some consider to be the most stringent legislation yet targeting illegal immigration. Its vague language appears to make small businesses and even non-profits, like schools and churches, culpable for determining and reporting on the validity of a person's residency status.

That's just plain goofy, isn't it? First, small businesses can barely keep up with all of the governmental red tape in our weak economy already, and now forcing them to use verification processes could further challenge their bottom line. Second, even though educating the children of illegals costs legitimate taxpayers significant sums, isn't making school districts police their classrooms for criminals counterproductive to the education process? We don't make schools search for kids whose parents have forged checks or robbed banks, do we?

Perhaps the worst facet of Alabama's bill, however, comes in the way it appears to force religious institutions into the law enforcement business. Doesn't requiring a church to report the very people they're supposed to help make a mockery out of religious freedom? It certainly violates the constitutional tenant of clergy privilege, where a religious professional is entitled to preserve the secrecy of information learned from a parishioner (except for cases involving child endangerment). In other words, it's legal for the pastor of your church to not tell the police that somebody in your church has privately confessed to murder. It may be unethical for the pastor to withhold or refuse to confirm that information, but it's not illegal. In Alabama, however, it would now only be illegal if the parishioner admitted to being an undocumented immigrant.

This makes the Alabama bill, which is even worse than Arizona's bill last year (which I also oppose, on the grounds that it endorses racial profiling), a sad testament to the apparent desperation states feel as they wait on our federal government to enforce our existing laws regarding repatriation.

Back to You, Uncle Sam

Of course, the main reason we can't get our President and Congress to enforce immigration laws involves the impossibly political rhetoric which saturates this issue. And this divisive, partisan rhetoric, in which few decisions get made, and few imperatives are communicated, has corrupted many facets of North American life. Politicians have become scared to do the right thing based on law and logic, and instead fret over how their constituents will react to every move they make.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure the evangelical community is helping anybody reach consensus with their talk of amnesty for illegals. We can say that evangelicals should not be expected to enforce the laws our federal government won't. We can say that Christ's commission for us to love our neighbors overrides our need to preoccupy ourselves with a person's legal status. But do we really contribute to the advancement of a solution to illegal immigration by - as several prominent clergymembers have done - drawing weak parallels between Biblical examples of migration and modern immigration, positing policies which corroborate those by amnesty advocates, and failing to draw clear distinctions between legal and illegal immigrants?

Moreso than anybody else, we evangelicals need to remember that this world is not our home. Since our eternal home still awaits us, this mortal life serves as a sort of prelude, rather than a curtain call. So in a sense, we're immigrants on this planet, on our way to a new Land.

By God's grace, we've been saved through Christ from our guilt of breaking His holy laws. One of the ways we now serve our Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, involves subscribing to the ethical structure of our society. This includes observing governmental authority which doesn't contravene our allegiance to God. It might seem poetic or virtuous to apply God's forgiveness to people breaking the immigration laws of the United States, particularly as our federal government is dragging its political feet. But as believers in Christ, can we claim that option?

Does illegal immigration for economic gain obviate the need to respect sovereign laws meant for national protection and preservation? Our immigration laws may be arcane, complex, and in need of some streamlining, but don't they still serve a valid purpose?

With these past several blog entries exploring illegal immigration, I've been intently describing my convictions to make sure I'm not dishonoring God with my stance on this issue. I'd like to think that if other people did the same thing in an honest, transparent fashion, they'd arrive at the same conclusions I have. But I'm not that naiive.

It's still up to those who argue against repatriation on ostensibly humanitarian grounds to prove they're not being naiive, either.

How much longer can any of us - from law enforcement agencies to schools, churches, state governments, and even illegals themselves - wait?

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