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A coalition on the right for immigration reform

A strange thing happened to me last week. I had for weeks been wanting to write a column about Phil Berger Jr., and by extension right-wing rhetoric in general, and the no remorse stance they’ve adopted on immigration reform. It’s a synecdoche, in my view, of the degree to which modern conservatism is out of touch with the realities of the 21st century.

I was struck, as I advanced into the column, by the way in which certain elements of evangelical conservative talking points contradict the very foundation of Christian theology.

Thinking through the column I developed a back and forth regarding faith, hope and love, but I failed to develop what I really wanted, which was a metaphor for the parable of the Good Samaritan. I would have had to force the issue, on deadline at that, and it just didn’t feel right to me at the time.

Imagine my surprise then when I attended a discussion at the Greensboro Historical Museum that included a viewing of a film by the Evangelical Immigration Table titled “The Stranger”. It had escaped my attention that this was part of the discussion. I had seen the sponsors, US Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Reform, Partnership for a New American Economy, and thought the event would be more of a political discussion.

There was policy at the end via a panel discussion with attorney Gerry Chapman, police Capt. Mike Richey and area Pastor Jonathan Lewis of Christ Wesleyan. But the film was first. It examined the plights of several families, including a Mexican immigrant woman in South Carolina, the mother of three Americanborn children, abandoned when her husband became violent and was self-deported by family members before he could do lasting damage to his wife and children. The family has basically been adopted by a church in South Carolina, Kaleidoscope Fellowship in Spartanburg.

The film documents the irrationality of splitting up families. The mother, Maria, works cleaning houses and wants to find a way to earn lawful status. In the film, her children express the fear they live with each day, worrying if their mother will be deported. Pastor Derrick Smith and his wife, Meghan, who grew up in a missionary family serving in Ecuador, express the frustration they feel in trying to help the mother navigate the complexities of our immigration system.

“We hear people talking all the time about how they just need to get in the back of the line with everybody else,” Meghan Smith says. “But there is no line.”

And that’s the hang up. There are about 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. It’s patently absurd to think that they can be rounded up and shipped back to their country of origin. And so politicians, like Berger Jr., seize on the rigid rule of law notion that seems to preclude compromise. But even Berger Jr., himself the district attorney of Rockingham County, practices compromise on those days he is actually in court and not on the campaign trail, when he offers and accepts plea bargains in lieu of trial. And why does Berger Jr. do this? Is he afraid to lose at trial? Is he afraid he will fail to convince a jury or a judge with the merits of his argument? Or is he seeking a more efficient path so that justice may be served?

Berger Jr. has wed himself to the notion that a pathway to citizenship is a pathway to amnesty, despite the fact that most legislative proposals require steps along a pathway to be earned, thus precluding the notion of true amnesty. Amnesty, by definition, necessitates a general pardon, a forgiveness, a one-way motion in which nothing is earned, but given.

By contrast, requiring individuals to earn legal status by paying a fine, registering at their national embassy or learning English, erects a system by which people can come to compliance with legal notions and then merit the peace of mind that would come with a defined legal status.

After all, in cases such as depicted in the film, the mother isn’t looking for citizenship, rather a legal status that eradicates the fear she and her loved ones endure while living between the cracks of our national immigration policy.

The film goes on to examine areas where evangelicals have come down on the faith side of immigration policy as opposed to the political side. It highlights a small glimmer of hope where compromise might be found in our national policy discussions.

One of the event sponsors, International Center of Raleigh, was represented by its director John Faison, who spoke at length after the panel discussion. He urged those few in attendance to contact their representative, one Howard Coble for the time being, to express their views on a kinder, gentler stance on immigration.

Writing in a newsletter recently, Faison devastated the type of inflexible logic inherent to right-wing politicians who shout “no amnesty for illegals” in their campaign literature.

“As Christians, we must be concerned that the laws of our country are laws that reflect God’s character,” Faison wrote. “Our current immigration laws, far from reflecting God’s character, suppress human dignity and exacerbate xenophobia. And we, as Americans, have not followed our ‘rule of law’ … Since the 1940s we have welcomed immigrants (undocumented or not) to build our houses, roads … until it was no longer economically or politically expedient to do so. Since 2008, suddenly we have become moralists about enforcing the law?” Let he who has never proffered a plea deal cast the first stone. !

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