The Reform Mantra for This Week: Focus, Values, and Leadership

immigration reform cartoon

Check out the second guest post from Robert Gittelson - its a great reminder about where we are in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR)!

This has been somewhat of a frustrating and difficult week for both sides in the immigration debate. The anti’s have been sidetracked by the deranged and violent acts of one of their own, which has lead to an outpouring of blistering attacks against racism and extremism, tainting the anti coalition with guilt by association.

The pro CIR advocates have been frustrated by the continued delays on the part of the White House, in their promised meeting with legislators to begin crafting the CIR legislation, (which I heard was now re-scheduled for June 25th).

While I understand that tensions are high, and seem to be escalating, I counsel that everyone involved in this debate should take a deep breath, pause to get their bearings, and refocus on the task at hand.

When there exists a lack of true action, it is easy to get distracted by trivia. I’ve been active in this debate for years, and there have been many more days of inaction, rather than action. People must understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint, so we can’t run off and chase after every red herring. We must keep our eyes on the ball, and stay focused on the goal of achieving a bi-partisan and effective bill.

Therefore, I want to use this time to build on my message of last week, which was to discuss the importance of the moral and ethical arguments to be made in support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation. In this debate, there are both fixed and variable arguments to be made on behalf of CIR.

The variable arguments are what I usually write about, such as national security and economics. These arguments are variable, because theoretically, if our nation was to miraculously find itself completely at peace with the world, one could argue that national security and border security were no longer urgent issues. If our economy was growing by leaps and bounds, one could argue that we didn’t need to improve it, because everything was fine. I don’t anticipate these things happening anytime soon, but in theory, they are possible, no matter how unlikely. However, the arguments that are based on moral and ethical principals are not at all variable. These arguments are written in stone, so to speak. The fixed arguments in favor of fairness, decency, and hope are eternal and everlasting, and are rooted not only in spirituality, but are fundamental to our American principals.

In the ongoing battle to achieve a consensus on the need for CIR, it is never the wrong time to bring up moral and ethical arguments. Lately, there has been a distinct escalation in the chorus of voices speaking out on this issue. Immigration Impact had an article this week, that states, "The recent spree in hate crimes, while not a direct result of the media’s and extremist group’s hate-filled rhetoric, ended in the sad and tragic loss of life at the hands of individuals. The civil rights group’s report reminds us that words have consequences and the media at large, regardless of political leaning, should consider the role angry and hate-filled rhetoric plays, not in ratings or popularity, but in lives of real people.

Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, echoed these sentiments,

"The tone of discourse over comprehensive immigration reform needs to be changed, needs to be civil and sane."

Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, which represents 20,000 churches in 34 states, recently said:

"We understand that Mr. Obama is in a difficult position and he is trying to be a reformer. Latinos supported him because they were extremely disappointed with Republicans and the ultra conservative right wing evangelical movement. So it is important that he make immigration reform a priority."

According to the National Catholic Reporter yesterday, the religious organization Epiphany hosted a prayer vigil for immigration reform that included prayers from a rabbi, a Unitarian minister, an evangelical pastor and a Roman Catholic priest. What has brought this diverse group together is the recognition that whatever one's political or ideological dispositions, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures cannot be read in any faithful manner that would allow one to ignore the plight of undocumented workers in the United States.

The website stated that the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform includes Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other faith groups. It began meeting in February, prompted by signs that the Obama administration was serious about overhauling the immigration system this year.

"We can’t do too much to underscore the moral perspective, from a faith perspective, on immigration and the need for reform,"

 said Annie Rawlings, a co-chair of the network and Associate Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of New York City. Among the organizations signing onto the effort are the American Jewish Committee, Catholic Charities, Rockland Jews for Justice, the Sikh Coalition and the Hudson Valley Community Coalition.

The Daily Tell reports that a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation will support a new initiative by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to create momentum for comprehensive immigration reform, including through advocacy skill-building workshops for Latino leaders and organizations around the country. Ann Schaffer, director of AJC’s Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Center for American Pluralism, said the grant recognizes AJC’s long commitment to comprehensive reform of immigration laws.

"Our goal is to encourage a civil and informed national discourse about immigration that will lead to policies reflecting America’s fundamental commitment to democratic values and human rights and also respond effectively to our nation’s national and economic security needs,"

Schaffer, who will direct the yearlong project, said.

The Christian Post Reporter has an article that note’s that the Bishops of the United Methodist Church applauded President Barack Obama on Friday for his intention to start the immigration reform process this year.

 28 UMC bishops, who signed the statement as of Friday, said:

"We join other religious leaders in thanking President Obama for placing immigration reform on his political agenda for 2009. As United Methodists we believe that immigration is a human rights issue that needs serious attention. We stand firmly in believing that the inherent value of all immigrants means that all of their civil liberties should be respected and maintained regardless of their legal status. We believe, however, that our present immigration policies violate these basic rights."

Saying that immigration crisis is "a test of our humanity," Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput on Saturday told an open forum on immigration reform that Catholics must not ignore immigrants in need and cannot remain silent about flawed immigration policy, according to the Catholic News Agency.

We made our immigration crisis in a bipartisan way. Now we need to solve it in a bipartisan way that involves good people from both parties or no party. The Catholic commitment to the dignity of the immigrant comes from exactly the same roots as our commitment to the dignity of the unborn child. Being pro-life also means making laws and social policies that will care for those people already born that no one else will defend. We need to remember that how we treat the weak, the infirm, the elderly, the unborn child and the foreigner reflects on our own humanity. We become what we do, for good or for evil. If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become. If we act with justice, intelligence, common sense and mercy, then we become something quite different. We become the people and the nation God intended us to be. The future of our country depends on it.

I would like to conclude this post with a passage from my own article, "The Centrists Against the Ideologues: What Are the Falsehoods That Divide Americans on the Issue of Comprehensive Immigration Reform?" I think that too often we think of moral behavior in religious terms, but, in fact, we have to examine the issue of our undocumented residents through the moral lens of fairness and human decency.

The 12,000,000 - 20,000,000 undocumented economic refugees might not be a fully integrated part of our assimilated society, but they most certainly are fully integrated into our workforce. We are, in fact, co-dependent on each other. We depend on the work that they do for us, while they and their extended families in the U.S. and abroad are dependent on the wages that we gladly pay to them.

Does this co-dependence make us complicit in their presence here? Of course it does. We are fully complicit, and that complicity, morally and ethically, demands responsibility. We have to live up to our responsibility, or we are being dishonest to ourselves, but that is only a crime of disingenuousness. However, we are also being unfair and dishonest with our undocumented residents, and that is a moral and ethical crime.

Moral authority is a nebulous commodity. It can’t be purchased or coerced; it must be earned through action and by deed. "Might equals right" is a political, not a moral, distinction. How we finally resolve our undocumented immigrant crisis will speak volumes in the internationally understood language of ethical leadership. As leaders in the global community, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to, in fact, lead.

Robert Gittelson