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To Tell the Truth
The Rev. Craig Mousin
Calling for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the current political climate drives wedges between allies and sparks political rhetoric that impedes legislative progress and leaves eligible families waiting longer for relief while some live in contested status under federal law. Most commentators, whether from the restrictionist perspective or the reform movement, agree that the current immigration system is broken. For those who believe too many undocumented persons reside within the United States borders, the presence of almost twelve million undocumented in the nation reveals how poorly the current system works, with borders that do not exclude and enforcement systems that cannot remove quickly enough, as they seek additional allies such as local law enforcement to speed up the detention and removal of those without proper authorization. For those who seek greater ease of immigration, the same number of undocumented speaks to a broken administration that delays visa processing, leaving some eligible families who filed as early as May, 1992 still waiting for the appropriate visa,1 building traps for the unwary applicants who must build lives while waiting for a broken system to work, and proof that the economy needs willing workers to take jobs that would otherwise go unfilled. Increased immigration enforcement, which has expanded under the Obama administration, only separates families and drives more people, including citizens and lawful residents, underground out of fear that they, too, will be targeted or their very presence will attract law enforcement towards family, friends, or neighbors. Enhanced border security efforts, financed by the perception of increased security and border control, prove ineffective, yet lead to increased deaths in the desert while simultaneously fueling the growth of the prison and electronic surveillance industries.
Traditionally, immigration law has attempted to solve the dilemma of who gets admitted to the United States by emphasizing family unity with citizens and lawful residents while establishing a quota for skilled jobs and other positions where immigrants would not otherwise lower the wages of native workers. In addition, a small number of refugees are admitted each year, through refugee processing, often assisted by churches and other religious groups, while others obtain status through litigation to prove they are bona fide refugees fleeing persecution or the well-founded fear of persecution. Congress has mostly fiddled with the proper numbers between those groups over the last half century while expanding the grounds by which lawful residents, visitors, and undocumented will be removed by expediting the judicial process and increasing the number of grounds for removal through immigration court. The traditional debate surrounding that fine tuning often turns on whether immigrants, or if admitted, which immigrants, help the U.S. economy, how family-based immigration helps strengthen community or, contrarily, establishes long lines of eligible applicants thus furthering the backlog. Each side trots out economists and sociologists demonstrating the value of each newcomer or the detriment to society when our doors open too generously. Too often, however, such debate over numbers treats immigrants and their families as commodities, as if one can pile up enough numbers on one’s side, Congress will be persuaded to change the law.
How do people of faith participate in this debate? At a minimum, we should avoid turning immigrants into commodities to be traded for pieces of immigration. The United Church of Christ has passed resolutions in favor of Comprehensive Immigration Reform calling for such reform that establishes a “safe and humane immigration system”2 citing Leviticus 19:33-34 to provide support for UCC positions.3 Members of the UCC come from a pilgrim people that fled persecution, slaves not just in Egypt, but England and now from the many countries that have contributed to the refugee flow across the globe. Past slavery in the United States also reveals the tragedy of forced migration over two centuries followed by internal migrations to cities like Chicago when we failed to be a hospitable people. And now our own barriers of poverty and racism still segregate us as a people—how can we welcome so many new families when so many of our citizens are hurting?
We can begin by telling the truth. Too much of immigration debates fail to recognize the complexity of our own communities where simple sound bites like “undocumented” or “illegal” persons cover up the many statuses the law has created to divide us. Racial profiling impacts communities differently, but becomes even more untenable when local law enforcement assists federal control of immigration when municipal and state police officers arrest and detain individuals based upon federal immigration status. Ironically, Chicago residents have previously experienced the tragedies when police enforce federal laws. In the 1800s, the Fugitive Slave Act required the sheriff to determine if a free black had lawful status or was a runaway slave trying to hide in the sanctuary of family or churches in Chicago.4 Chicago’s City Council recognized how community is shattered when local police are asked to identify the status of a “lawful” free black from a runaway slave, much as will happen if today’s police transform into local Border Patrol deputies. More recently, former Mayor Harold Washington issued an Executive Order prohibiting Chicago Police from enforcing immigration laws, but efforts in Congress and in states like Arizona continue to mandate police serving as adjuncts to federal immigration enforcement.5
In addition, we can examine past legislation that purported to reform immigration. Douglas S. Massey, Jorge Durand and Nolan J. Malone point out that often our politicians like the “ritualistic performance” of increasing border enforcement rather than “an actual strategy of deterrence.”6 Their findings show that political theater rather than a true understanding of the relationship between sending nations and the United States has dominated federal legislation over the last thirty years, and ironically, has actually increased the number of undocumented persons within our borders, often trapped by the laws that falsely give the appearance of toughness.7
Although pragmatists remind us the legislative process dovetails strategic compromises with radical rhetoric, persons of faith must bring searchlights to sweep away the false rhetoric and remind our nation of the dignity of each person these laws impact. With near unanimous agreement that our legislated immigration system is broken, let us urge our legislators not to fall prey to charges of weak or strong on immigration under false fears. Let us begin by telling the truth about how the fear of unrestricted immigration has actually made a broken system work less effectively. Let us tell the truth how enhanced enforcement has led to human rights violations in our detention system.8 Let us tell the stories of humanity and dignity within our communities that make Comprehensive Immigration Reform a necessity to continue to build our diverse communities and strengthen our society. Let us work to find those safe and humane laws that truly will bless our common good.
- United States Department of State, Visa Bulletin for May 2010, http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/bulletin/bulletin_4805.html (accessed on April 19, 2010).
- United Church of Christ, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, http://www.ucc.org/justice/immigration/CIR-principles.html?print=t (accessed on April 19, 2010).
- Ibid: “As Christians we are called to love our neighbors and provide hospitality to strangers. “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Leviticus 19:33-34”
- See, Craig B. Mousin, “A CLEAR View from the Prairie: Harold Washington and the People of Illinois Respond to Federal Encroachment of Human Rights,” 29 SO. IL. L. U. JO. 285, 299-304, Fall 2004/Winter 205.
- Ibid., pp. 293-98.
- Douglas S. Massey, Jorge Durand and Nolan J. Malone, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in and Era of Economic Integration, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002), 103.
- National Immigrant Justice Center et al, “Human Rights Violations in the Immigrant Detention System,” Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, Ninth Session of the Working Group on the UPR, Human Rights Council, 2 November – 3 December, 2010, http://www.immigrantjustice.org/resourcespolicy/detention/upr.html (accessed on April 23, 2010).
Rev. Craig B. Mousin (M. Div. 1987)
Rev. Craig Mousin, J.D., M.Div. (CTS ’87) is the University Ombudsperson at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He is also the co-founder of DePaul University's College of Law Asylum and Immigration Legal Clinic and teaches Asylum and Refugee Law. Rev. Mousin is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.