Saturday, September 4, 2010

People of faith can’t dodge immigration issue

Rep. Stephen Sandstorm, R-Orem, unveiled a Utah immigration bill last month that is similar to Arizona’s controversial law.

While the bill clarifies that law enforcement may not consider “race, color or national origin,” officers need have only a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is undocumented. Many worry this could lead to racial profiling and harassment, particularly of Latinos and those with accents, regardless of their citizenship status.

Clearly there are no simple solutions to the divisive and complex immigration problem. Legitimate concerns on both sides must be addressed. But the current patchwork solutions do little to fix an immigration system in need of an overhaul.

People of faith cannot ignore the sticky issue. In Exodus 22:21, God said to the Israelites, “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him.” In the New Testament, Jesus, a Jew, broke social norms and interacted with a Samaritan woman. In Matthew’s Gospel, he tells Christians to care for “the least of these among us.”

We are a nation of immigrants that always has been a refuge for those seeking a better life. We should not abandon our values because the immigration challenge seems insurmountable.

The scope of that challenge shows up in estimates pegging the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at about 11 million. In recent years, the number of deportations has risen sharply. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Murray branch says about 50 to 60 detainees are flown back to their original countries each week.

While some deportations result from an illegal immigrant committing a crime, the process can be launched after a simple misdemeanor or traffic violation.

Innocent victims of deportation often are children.

A child born in the United States is granted citizenship regardless of their parents’ residency status. If a parent is deported, family members usually remain in the United States because they have a more promising future here.
Another group that receives no sympathy are children brought to the United States illegally by their parents. These children grow up as Americans and may discover their illegal status only later on in life. But these individuals run the risk of being deported to a country to which they have no ties.

Amnesty is not the solution. Providing those here illegally with automatic citizenship would lead to a surge in illegal immigration and is unfair to the millions awaiting legal entry. But we cannot blindly deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our country. Besides being expensive and logistically impossible, this approach lacks compassion and does nothing to combat the problem.

We must call on lawmakers to find a more palatable solution: Comprehensive reform that addresses the reasons for illegal immigration, secures our borders, tries to keep families together and works with law-abiding individuals currently living and contributing to our communities to seek a path to citizenship.

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