Debating immigration law

LA Canada

Arizona's new immigration law, signed last week by Gov. Jan Brewer, has sparked furor and protest all over the country. The law makes it a state crime to lack immigration papers and requires police to determine whether people they stop are in the country illegally. Some say the law goes too far in protecting the country from illegal immigrants. Defenders of the law — angry over the charges of racism permeating the debate — say it is needed because the federal government has failed to enforce border security with Mexico. What do you think? Is the new law a step forward in combating illegal immigration to the U.S., or does it go too far? What are the moral and/or ethical dilemmas that you see here that may arise or have already arisen from this new law?

There is no doubt that we need a just and equitable immigration policy in this country. However, it must be just and equitable.

Justice demands that we respect the human rights of all people first and foremost. Those rights are based on their humanity and not on the color of their skin, the place of their origin, the language that they speak or do not speak.

Justice is a virtue that demands an appreciation that we are all one in Christ; that we are peers; that there are no superiors or inferiors among us.

Justice requires of each of us that we have a firm will to give each person that which is properly due to them. It disposes each of us, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "to respect the rights of each [person] and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and the common good."

If we seek justice, then we must work toward a habit of correct thinking, and our conduct toward our neighbor must be upright.

In light of these principles, it seems that the Arizona illegal immigration law needs to be rethought. It does not seem to be based on the moral virtue of justice, nor does it work toward an equitable solution of the problem. We are first members of one another before we are "legal or illegal." That relationship needs to be fostered and nurtured before we can begin to focus on internal legal problems. If that relationship is not fostered, we are not "forming a more perfect union;" we are building an exclusive clique concerned about keeping others out rather than uniting others with us.

The REV. RICHARD ALBARANO is pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Burbank. Reach him at (818) 504-4400.

Last weekend, Methodists around the country joined in the May Day marches for a just immigration policy. In 2008, our international body passed a resolution full of powerful language reminding us of God's call to radical hospitality.

The Bible calls us to welcome the stranger and the alien. Why? Historically speaking, we or our ancestors were all once strangers and aliens looking for a place to call home. Compassionately speaking, we know that people are moving from genuinely inhospitable places of the world — in search of safety, work, family. Spiritually speaking, you never know when a new person has God's word for you — a story that will deepen your compassion, inspire your vocational journey or launch a new chapter in your life. You should always welcome the stranger, says the New Testament book of Hebrews, "for it is by doing so that some have entertained angels without knowing it."

We stir up our own ethical and moral dilemmas by acting out of fear, hate and prejudice. It does not take much to see that Arizona's law will not heal its neighborhoods or create communities that thrive. Instead, it is already unraveling communities — encouraging neighbor to distrust neighbor; deteriorating the potential for small businesses to grow and thrive; and turning law enforcement officers into racial profilers.

An immigration policy grounded in human rights, compassion and long-term economic interests will come out of a complex and lengthy public conversation.

Let's commit to persevering in that together, even though we may be more at ease with simple slogans and 10-second sound bites.

Let's commit to avoiding the disastrous shortcuts of politically expedient, draconian laws that dehumanize people and disintegrate communities.

The REV. PAIGE EAVES is pastor of Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church. Reach her at (818) 249-6173, or e-mail

Moral concerns about "state-sanctioned racial profiling" are, as of last Friday's revised wording of the illegal immigration law, now apparently no longer in the forefront.

But there are still ample related issues that should be of concern to people of conscience. Such as those pertaining to the growing number of people who feel personally affronted by the existence on our soil of non-citizens (regardless of their contributions to the functioning of our economy and culture).

Many are making it their mission to spread hate-filled mythology about "them," and to advocate for inhuman extremes of segregation and punishment through various means — including border barriers, like those once dividing East and West Germany and those currently dividing Israeli and Palestinian settlements — and violent, fear-driven vigilante actions.

But there is another moral concern as well. It has to do with this country's history of ignoring/manipulating its laws when doing so creates benefit. An example of this is the federal immigration laws that, when inconsistently enforced, assure the continued flow of cheap labor — without which the current American standard of living would be greatly diminished.

A moral nation would encourage honest dialogue about its motives and commitments.

More so, a moral nation would create and consistently enforce fair laws designed to protect the freedom, dignity and worth of human beings, not just those with a U.S. passport.

The REV. STEFANIE ETZBACH-DALE is minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Verdugo Hills in La Crescenta. Reach her at (818) 248-3954.

I think the new law is good, but could possibly go too far. What concerns me is the fact that even the "suspicion" of someone being in this country illegally is enough to warrant arrest.

It slightly reminds me of the way we treated people of Middle Eastern heritage after the attacks on our homeland on Sept. 11, 2001. Was it necessary to be hyper-vigilant to protect our country? In countless ways, absolutely yes. But there were also times when individuals who looked Middle Eastern were also discriminated against. Anything in and of itself has the potential to be misused and can lead to racism.

What I do think is good about this new law is that if you are a documented immigrant, you do not have anything to worry about. Isn't that the way it is with most laws? If you abide by them and obey them, you should be covered.

Overall I believe it is a wise law. I just would not want to see it lead to where innocent people are being frequently detained.

The REV. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN is a marriage and family therapist at La Vie Counseling Center in Pasadena. Reach her at (626) 351-9616, Ext. 181, or by e-mail at

Polls tell us that the majority of Americans support Arizona's new law, even though, regrettably, it will likely lead to racial profiling. This underscores the two valid but seemingly conflicting arguments involved: American citizens have the right to be protected by state and national governments from cross-border criminals and illegal activity. But they (including legal immigrants) also have the right to live freely and without harassment even though they "look" like they fit a certain profile.

Police have the right to ask any of us for proper identification, but I understand there must be just cause for stopping us in the first place: we've run a red light, we're damaging public property, etc. But it gets very tricky when suspicion is based on who a person is by birth, nationality or choice of clothing.

I don't know the severity of the problems associated with illegal immigration in Arizona or the frustration of locals because the federal government has not secured the border. Equally, I don't know the fear that legal immigrants must be feeling or the indignation of having been "profiled" simply because of one's ethnic heritage. As much as Arizona's current law might help stop illegal activity, it seems to me that human rights must prevail and another solution must be found.

When establishing the laws for the new nation of Israel, God reminded his people: "you shall not wrong a stranger [immigrant] or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21). All the same, immigrants were required by God to obey the national laws — they faced expulsion or worse if they blasphemed God's name or committed idolatry.

Welcoming immigrants will be a matter of reward from God, or lack thereof. In Matthew 25:35, 40, Jesus Christ tells his people: "I was a stranger, and you invited Me in to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."

We must never forget that our eternal reward will be affected by our attitudes toward and treatment of immigrants.

The REV. JON BARTA is pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Burbank. Reach him at (818) 845-7871.

I feel strongly that America must display zero tolerance for racial discrimination or ethnic bias of any kind. The United States was founded on the bedrock principles of equality and tolerance, and any laws to the contrary are not only unconstitutional, but threaten the moral fiber of our nation.

There are many potential pitfalls associated with trying to enforce immigration laws in a region where the majority of the illegal immigrants share a similar ethnic origin. Racial profiling and other discriminatory abuses become a real concern when law enforcement officials are given a mandate to question and detain people who fall into "certain categories."

At the same time, the citizens of Arizona have a right to protect themselves from what they deem to be a threat. Apparently, this law replicates some existing federal regulations on a state level, so in that sense nothing has changed aside from a commitment to greater enforcement by state authorities. Hopefully a combination of proper oversight, strict monitoring and a strong commitment to negate bias will ensure that the new law is applied properly, without the taint of racism.

It's troubling that Arizona felt the need to circumvent current federal immigration strategy and enact laws in their Legislature to safeguard their citizenry. This development highlights a serious rift between Washington and the government of a state of the union. I fear that this disconnect is endemic, and it's only a matter of time before other states take a unilateral approach to issues they feel Washington has not properly addressed. We must avoid this trend, since such discord can weaken our nation at a time when we need to be unified in our approach to the various challenges, both internal and external, that we face.

I would suggest that President Obama and Gov. Brewer come together for a face-to-face meeting and work out their differences in person — not via the press — to help restore faith in the federal-state relations.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN is spiritual leader of Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills. Reach him at (818) 240-2750.

Yes, there has been quite a furor over this recent legislation, and the response has ranged from cheers by American citizens over something that has been long in coming, to protesters actually portraying the Arizona governor as the "Fuhrer."

The fact is, most American family trees reveal, at some point, an immigrant ancestor arriving in the United States to begin a new life. My own grandfather came legally, learned English as his first priority and wore his new identity with pride. I think most Americans tire of illegal immigrants sneaking across our borders and hiding out in ethnic-specific neighborhoods until they acclimate and are able to obtain illegal documents like Social Security cards and driver's licenses. Who pays for the cost of their crimes and use of government programs? Citizens do.

God told the ancient Israelites, in Exodus 23:9 NIV, "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens." It may be that most of us do not remember how it feels, but by the same token the scripture does not say "coddle the alien" or "exempt the alien from the law." It also doesn't deny that there are those who are identifiably an illegal immigrant. Our current situation oppresses illegal immigrants when they are hired at less than legal wages — if they even receive any wages. After all, to whom will they legally complain?

I frankly don't see the Arizona law as oppressive, let alone racist. When stopped in traffic, I must produce a license and registration. A background check will be run on my plates. If I couldn't produce the documents, and could barely communicate in English, wouldn't that warrant my closer scrutiny?

When traveling, I have a passport, and working abroad would require a visa, so why the rhetoric and protest violence for illegal immigrants? Could it be that the most vocal are illegally harboring them?

The REV. BRYAN GRIEM is pastor of Montrose Community Church. Reach him at (818) 249-0483.

As we all know, the United States has an illegal immigration problem. So far, the federal government has not addressed this issue adequately, and Arizona, a state that is very much affected by illegal immigration, has taken a bold step to deal with this issue. This legislation is supported by a majority of Arizonans (as I understand it), but is this bold step a step forward or back?

I have not had a chance to read the legislation and, although the news media has highlighted some aspects of the legislation, it has not provided sufficient detail to allow me to fully evaluate the legislation. Furthermore, there has been a lot of spin put on this legislation.

I do believe that any legislation that attempts to control illegal immigration will have serious constitutional, civil rights and moral implications to it. Perhaps the good news is that this legislation has brought the immigration issue to the forefront again for debate.

In that light, we should not overlook the legal immigration problem. As an example, several years ago I became friends with a young man who grew up in the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He was determined to make a better life for himself. He accepted Christ, put himself through school in Brazil, learned English and eventually created the opportunity to legally attend graduate school in Los Angeles. Upon graduation, he had several job offers in Los Angeles, but, with his graduation, his student visa expired. His attempts to get a work visa failed, and he was forced to leave the United States for Brazil.

How should Christians respond to these immigration issues? We are taught in the Bible to follow Christ, love one another, help the poor and less fortunate, and serve one another.

I believe in that. Even so, we must be mindful of political, legal and economic realities, limitations and unintended consequences. To me, we should support efforts to resolve these immigration issues in a humane and Christ-like manner.

RICK CALLISTER is a member of the La Cañada II Ward of the La Crescenta Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reach him at (213) 412-2804.

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