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Amnesty for Immigrants is a Good Thing

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Amnesty as Beautiful and Moral

Immigrants, even undocumented ones, are an economic asset, according to just about every government study and economist. Even if they are legalized and start using more of the services they now pay for in taxes, they remain an economic asset. Immigrants watch our children, pick our lettuce, care for our grandmothers, doctor the rural poor, write computer code, mow our lawns, and wash our restaurant dishes - at a lower than a just wage. They are an obvious personal asset to those who need personal services, like home health care or house cleaning. They deserve better wages for this hard work.

They are also human beings and human assets in the form of social and not just economic capital. They are people. They are people who do not deserve hate but love, not hostility but hospitality, not law enforcement but law change and then law relief.

Why, then, with both moral and economic assets so clear, has amnesty become a "bad" word? Why does it stand in the way of the moral courage of politicians? Who let the dogs out? How dare amnesty be a bad word? In what world or what religion is amnesty something we say with scorn or derision?

Amnesty is a big word for forgiveness. From a religious point of view, Amnesty is not something we "deserve" so much as something we treasure.

There are at least 12 million human beings already here, active as human and economic assets to this nation. Please call them human beings or immigrants, not "illegals!" The President's political courage joins the common sense of the two major American unions in supporting, if not amnesty, at least comprehensive immigration reform to provide a legal path to citizenship. I want to say either alleluia or mazel tov and then thank God. But a legal path to citizenship will not necessarily help those already here. Amnesty will help them. It should be a part of any bill.

Amnesty is a morally beautiful thing. If you have ever been forgiven, you understand. If you've ever yearned for forgiveness and not received it, you also understand. You know what a heavy psychological and moral burden resentment is. It hurts to live in the land of the unforgiving or the unforgiven. Those are both mean places. Amnesty is the solution. We might even argue that those who get the forgiveness they deserve differ mightily from those who get the forgiveness they don't deserve. The latter melts in a spiritual heap of gladness and renewal; the former is self-righteously driven and likely to go and sin some more. Forgiveness is barely forgiveness if we think we have a right to it. Forgiveness has a surplus to it; it buys more than it pays for.

Why would immigrants who broke laws neither they nor most Americans understand be such superior sinners that they would not receive forgiveness or an amnesty? And what about their children? Separating parents from children is cruel. Most Americans would cry more over a stray kitten than a stray child. There are thousands of stray children right now because of our impractical, expensive, stupid and immoral deportation policies.

Immigrants make economic contributions that are sizeable. Policing them costs a lot of money. Fact: Deporting immigrants costs money. Fact: When they work and pay taxes, they add money. Which policy is more recession busting?

I just visited an undocumented man with AIDS in a NYC hospital. There was a guard posted outside his door. Why? Another woman supports four children while living with another woman with four children; both of their husbands were deported. For a living, they braid hair and sell scarves. Why were their hard working husbands deported? What will happen to the children?

Well-funded, racist, xenophobic, unpatriotic -- and well-funded -- political operatives have distorted the word Amnesty. I pray for their forgiveness - and their repentance.

We often do the right thing for the wrong reason. The right thing is Amnesty. It is also Comprehensive Immigration Reform. It is surely a legal path to citizenship. We morally do these things because they are the right thing to do. It is a wonderful side effect that we also have economic benefits.

The Rev. Dr Donna Schaper is the Senior Minster of Judson Memorial Church and author of Grassroots Gardening: Rituals to Sustain Activism from Nation books.