And the best way to deal with this problem is to say we need to deal with it.
At least, that's the thinking behind yet another group of American religious leaders who claim to be taking a firm stand on the subject of illegal immigration. This time it's a group called the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), and this past Tuesday, they announced a coalition of ecumenical, bipartisan religious groups and leaders who have endorsed a new initiative that will "make our nation proud" when it comes to immigration reform.
In their document, entitled the "Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform," they've come up with six key issues they believe need to be addressed before the United States will have achieved what they consider to be acceptable immigration reform. According to them, such reform should:
- Respect the God-given dignity of every person
- Protect the unity of the immediate family
- Respect the rule of law
- Guarantee secure national borders
- Ensure fairness to taxpayers
- Establish a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
So, with all due respect: what's their point?
Personally, I don't believe deportation constitutes an inhumane component of how we combat illegal immigration. However, I also try to be realistic on these things, and I understand that mass deportations of millions of people is just not going to happen, even if it should. The financial burden to taxpayers for such an effort, then, not to mention its logistics, makes wholesale deportations a red herring in this issue.
Then too, I find it rather incongruous that the EIT advocates for respecting the rule of law, when they're talking about providing asylum for law-breakers. Illegal immigrants have earned the title because that's what they are.
And we've already been around and around the whole border security issue so many times, it smacks here more of political cow-towing than legitimate policy advocacy. Why bother to even mention secure national borders in this statement, since government contractors have proven inept at deploying technology for a virtual fence, and a bricks-and-mortar fence is also financially and logistically unfeasible? Either people cross our borders legally, and are entitled to the limited privileges of doing so, or they don't, and they're not.
So, what's the real motivation behind the EIT's fanciful public relations exercise? Is it to present a positive image to Hispanics on behalf of denominations which see them as their next target demographic for proselytization? Why wasn't any of this website translated into Spanish, which presumably is the most common language of the illegal immigrants targeted by this coalition? Why the sudden popularity of Internet petitions, a' la the Manhattan Declaration, which has been greeted with underwhelming enthusiasm from the churched public? Isn't it mostly a bunch of older white men, who enjoy salaries above those of their average congregants and have never had to compete for an ordinary job against illegal workers, simply trying to establish some political relevance? Or maybe salving some latent unease over the difference between their lifestyles compared to those of illegals?
Might this all be too little to late anyway, considering the fact that illegal immigration has dropped off considerably now that the Great Recession has wreaked havoc on employment rates?
Let's face the real issue with illegal immigration: it's all about money, isn't it? For the most part, the reason people enter the United States illegally is because they can earn more money here than they can in their native country. Trying to earn a better income to support one's family is hardly a bad thing in and of itself. But should evangelical Christians be endorsing the pursuit of money as a legitimate reason for breaking sovereignty laws?
Sure, I'm grateful to God that I don't live in the dire poverty from which many illegals are fleeing. And to the extent that believers in Christ are to help the poor and disenfranchised, we should. But by facilitating an incentive for people to risk their own lives - not to mention getting into debt to human smugglers - so they can come up here and work below the civil rights radar? That's a "Christian" response to this problem?
Don't buy the rhetoric that illegals are doing jobs lazy Americans won't. Those jobs Americans "won't" do, that penny-pinching employers say only illegals will do, are the jobs for which employers aren't willing to pay a market wage. Business owners love to talk about free markets, but a basic component of free markets is how much it costs to get people to do the work you want them to do. And many employers simply don't want to pay Americans what they know is their due, along with proper work safety procedures, workers compensation insurance, and a legally-defined workweek.
In a way, illegals exist as pawns in a whole sub-culture of the American workplace where human rights more closely mirror the 1800's than the 2000's. Employers know that if illegals complain about their working conditions, they can fire them and replace them with a more naive illegal. Illegals know that, too, so they work extra hard because, well, it's all about the money.
Some message for a bunch of altruistic evangelicals to be endorsing.
The dilemma of illegal immigration won't be solved by a bunch of people from the ivory towers of American Christianity getting together to sign a statement on a website. It's going to be far more complex a process than arguing about how to establish a process for citizenship for illegals.
Because guess what - the minute all of these illegals become United States citizens, they're suddenly going to lose value in the eyes of their employers. Ronald Reagan granted an amnesty in the 1980's, and it did nothing to curb illegal immigration, because ruthless employers simply rotated out their current crop of illegals-turned-citizens and began looking for more cheap labor to exploit.
If all of these Christian leaders would advocate on behalf of indigenous people groups in Central and South America, and re-focus their denominational energies towards sustainable educational and development efforts in these desperately poor regions of the world, then they'd be helping people avoid the need to cross our border illegally in the first place.
Pressure our President and Congress to demand real economic and social change in governments south of our border. Bring converts from Latin American on legal trips to the United States to train them here for necessary job skills, and then freely send them home equipped to change their own worlds.
Sure, it's more work than signing an online petition.
But at least it could work.