My good friend Amin David, President of the Latino community organization Los Amigos of Orange County wrote this commentary that I posted on the blog TheLiberalOC.com. It addresses the matter of the Arizona Illegal Immigration Law from the heart of conservative Orange County, California asking -- What would Reagan do?
In his eloquent "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" written in response to white ministers who criticized nonviolent activist tactics, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote powerfully, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." It greatly bothered King that white Christians could stand by idly while oppression of fellow human beings continued unabated. "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."
He wrote from his small jail cell one of the most famous and forceful arguments supporting the principles of non-violent action against "unjust laws," and reminded a majority Christian nation of its own moral obligation. In reflecting on the recent actions by the Arizona legislature enacting immigration policies which many fear will lead to racial profiling, an abhorrent and illegal practice in the world's greatest democracy, it is time to once again ask Americans, especially the majority who adhere to the Christian faith, to examine their hearts and core values.
The Bible has many statements espousing unconditional love but none more on point than in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19.33-25), "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: I am the Lord your God." After pondering the meaning of this, I don't know how one can articulate how this verse squares with the Arizona law.
We find a similar message from Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 22.34-40), "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Considering that most of the anti-illegal alien rhetoric is coming out of the Far-Right who overwhelmingly self-identify as Christian, it seems a great contradiction as to why such hatred and vitriol has erupted from this group. But as King stated in his Letter, "So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are."
We at Los Amigos believe it is time once again to ask our religious leaders to stand up to remind their flocks what it means to be Christian and to condemn those who resort to scapegoating their fellow man.
But we cannot stop there. It is unfortunate that city leaders are adopting resolutions supporting the Arizona law; some local city councils are shamelessly identifying their communities as "Rule of Law" cities even as they vote to reduce funding for law enforcement, code enforcement, firefighters, etc. Hopefully, voters will see these actions as pandering attempts to shift blame away from real problems that some elected officials would rather not address. Thankfully, many city council members are rejecting the jingoism and focusing instead on the business of governance. But it should disturb all Americans that opportunistic elected officials are tapping into the unhappiness, depression and disillusionment wrought by the worst recession since the Great Depression to scapegoat those in no position to defend themselves. We must hold those accountable who support such mean spirited and manipulative resolutions and ask them to rescind their actions.
Finally no examination of America's Conservative Christian core values is complete without consulting the greatest conservative, Ronald Reagan.
In his January 1989 farewell message to the nation, Reagan said this about immigration:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.
In a nationally televised debate with Walter Mondale in 1984, Reagan stated, "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally." In 1986 Reagan signed the country's most sweeping immigration bill to date which gave "amnesty" to 2.9 million undocumented people, mostly from Mexico.
There is no question that the immigration debate is controversial and in the midst of a gripping recession impacting millions of Americans, very difficult to confront. But Mr. Reagan's words are perhaps most reassuring in affirming our great experiment in democracy: "Any place in the world and any person from these places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here .. . I believe that God in shedding his grace on this country has always in this divine scheme of things kept an eye on our land and guided it as a promised land for these people."
These words leave little doubt as to what Reagan would do. The question for us is what will we Americans do?