07/28/2010 06:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Arizona Immigration Law: Why I'll be in Phoenix Thursday

Thousands of people will gather in Phoenix tomorrow, July 29th, to protest the scheduled implementation of Arizona's harsh new anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070. The law's provisions require sweeping changes to current statutes regulating everything from vehicle impoundment to warrantless arrests. Today a federal judge blocked some of the most flagrantly unconstitutional sections from going into effect tomorrow, but this reprieve is temporary, and several other states are considering similar legislation. Laws like SB1070 will harm immigrants and people of color, separate children from parents, make entire communities less safe, and blight the American spirit.

The Arizona law requires local and state law enforcement officials to ask for proof of citizenship if they suspect a person might be in the country illegally. Following a nationwide outcry, the law was amended to clarify that it does not allow for racial profiling. Still, it is impossible to imagine how this abusive practice can be avoided. There can be no mistake about the intent and outcome of this legislation: people with brown skin who speak Spanish are the targets. Ethnic cleansing could soon become the law in Arizona.

Ironically, SB1070 will undermine the very goals it purports to defend, particularly public safety, health, and education. Crime victims and witnesses will be afraid to speak to police for fear they will be detained and separated from their families. Parents will avoid taking their children to medical facilities for vital care. Schools will be disrupted when students are removed. It will also become increasingly difficult for Latino people -- citizens and immigrants alike -- to work and support their families.

When I was in Phoenix for the Memorial weekend protests, I was moved beyond words to see demonstrators holding sings reading "Undocumented and Unafraid." Their courage was truly inspiring, for if conservatives win the coming court battles, SB 1070 will create a police state in which neighbors are required to inform on one another or risk prosecution themselves. Citizens who offer rides to families after church or who volunteer to drive seniors to medical appointments risk having their cars impounded if they are found to be transporting undocumented residents.

It is no surprise that most of the Arizona law enforcement community, including the state's Attorney General, oppose the law. SB 1070 allows, and even encourages, individual citizens to bring suit against municipalities that they believe have not gone far enough in enforcing the many provisions of the law. Towns will go bankrupt defending frivolous or malicious lawsuits, neighborhoods will be destroyed, and families will be torn apart.

This vision is not the America I want to live in.

We must acknowledge that the United States is largely responsible for the influx of immigrants across our southern border. Our economic policies are helping to create wrenching economic dislocations in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, while at the same time US companies and consumers demand and benefit from the cheap labor that immigrants supply. Businesses, consumer-citizens, and undocumented workers are profoundly connected in a vast, interdependent economic web. We cannot solve the problem by scapegoating and casting out the most vulnerable members of a system we created and profit from.

We must not allow our country to be ruled by fear and diminished by racism. Arizona is ground zero in a looming human rights crisis. And it is a spiritual crisis as well. Addressing these problems on a national scale will require honesty, humility, and generosity. By summoning these qualities we will reclaim what is best about the American spirit.

This is why I will be back in Arizona tomorrow. Unitarian Universalism is a "creedless faith, meaning we have no prescribed doctrine or dogma. But we do have principles. Our first principle affirms the worth and dignity of every individual, and the second calls for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. I will be in Arizona to witness for the dignity of the people about to be persecuted and demeaned by SB1070. All of the world's major religions emphasize loving one's neighbor, so I will be part of a broad interfaith coalition standing on the side of love in Phoenix. Finally, along with thousands of other people, of every religion and none, I will be there to defend the America I believe in -- a country that rewards hard work, protects privacy, and guarantees civil and human rights for all. We must act now before we betray our deepest American values and damage the soul of our nation.