Saturday, July 3, 2010

Securing the Border

Reflecting on the Importance of Understanding Current Events and Language in the Debate over Immigration*

The following is the blog post I wrote for the Faith in Public Life blog Bold Faith Type inspired by four weeks of reading news coverage about immigration. Each morning, we read the news, clipping articles for our Newsreel. I find the Newsreel to be a very important tool for faith leaders because keeping up on current events helps us break out of that insulated church world that we often find ourselves in.

For me, this is particularly true as I try to educate myself about issues like immigration. After weeks of reading about the debates over immigration reform, I felt I had to write something to point out the problems with further militarizing an already overly-militarized region. However, in writing for the blog, I did have to check a lot of the more angry, more lefty language I use. In the first draft, I used the word "militarization" several times, knowing as I wrote it that in most cases it wouldn't make the final cut but continuing to use it because that is the word that best fit my meaning. Sometimes, though, we do have to sacrifice precision of meaning, the passion behind the words, in order to best present an argument in a strong but non-threatening way, a way that allows us to speak across partisan barriers.

Sometimes, I feel like the political language we use is like the constructed differences between Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian--- all are the same language, but differences are fabricated and used to pledge allegiance to one group in opposition to another, to identify people ethnically just by a word they use. If we want to build community, though, we have to recognize when those political differences are necessary and when we can try instead to use the other language to communicate our values.

I thank Kristin and Nick for their help moving the post away from my more militant lefty, more academic writing to something that better fits in the Bold Faith Type blog.

A False Sense of Security

In the ongoing debate about immigration, some erstwhile supporters of reform say we must first "secure the border" before we can think about comprehensive reform. In his speech Thursday morning President Obama seemed to kowtow a bit to that perspective when he said that there are more "boots on the ground" at the border than at any other time in US history, a reference to his administration's announcement last week that they will be deploying 1200 new troops to the Southwest border as well as seeking funds for two Predator drones to patrol the border.

The GOP insistence on border security relies on the belief that crime is an out-of-control problem on the U.S. side of border. This false sentiment is consistently espoused by conservative politicians like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who recently asserted that

"the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in."

In fact, according to Politifact, "statistics have consistently shown that immigrants, including illegal immigrants, actually have lower rates of criminal activity and incarceration than do the native-born children of immigrants." Moreover, US border cities have among the lowest rates of violent crime in the country.

The debate pitting border security against comprehensive reform is not only built on a shaky foundation of evidence, but is also a false dichotomy. We cannot secure the border without comprehensive reform, without a way for individuals to legally and fairly enter the system. As C. Stewart Verdery, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of Policy and Planning at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote in a recent report:

"Waiting for an airtight border to solve our immigration problems would be an unrealistic, impractical, and unsuccessful strategy."

We need our politicians, from members of Congress here in Washington and state political leaders like Gov. Brewer, to drop the "secure the border" rhetoric and instead focus on what we know will work: comprehensive immigration reform. Faith leaders have been leading the charge for reform that protects our values and our interests as a country, and this week, they ramped up the pressure and urged Congress to build on the momentum from the President's speech.

Wednesday, Hispanic and African American pastors launched a coalition debunking the myth of the "black-brown divide" and pledging support for immigration across racial and ethnic lines. Thursday, an interfaith delegation delivered a letter to White House officials with almost 600 signatures from faith leaders in support of comprehensive immigration reform and announced a coordinated month of action for reform. The grassroots mobilization, Justice July, will include pulpit swaps between citizen and immigrant clergy, vigils, and acts of civil disobedience.

The faith community isn't backing down on the overwhelming need for reform. They know that the pragmatic and moral solution is a comprehensive one, and not one that relies on faulty logic and calls for militarization along our Southern border.


All the pictures are from the OnFire Borderlinks delegation in October 2009, which I blogged about here. This is the Mexican side of the fence that cuts Nogales, Arizona, USA from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The art is the work of Lupe Serrano. Art is not allowed on the USAmerican side as art was not allowed on the Soviet side of the Berlin Wall. Isn't that funny?


*This summer I am a Beatitudes Fellow at Faith in Public Life. The Beatitudes Society is a progressive Christian resource center for and network of faith leaders that offers seminarians like me internships at key national social change organizations. Faith in Public Life is one of those organizations, focusing on "advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good," a lot of which is in making the progressive faith voice audible in the media. I believe God has called me to parish ministry, yet I felt strongly that I needed non-profit experience if I want to be an effective pastor working for a just world. I have not been disappointed with this decision.


  1. This issue makes me so mad right now. I was quite literally yelling at the tv the other night... As you already know- I don't agree with you on this... I do, however, applaud your effort in trying to get away from you "leftist views"... Even if it wasn't quite far enough for me...


  2. I certainly wasn't "getting away from them" merely getting away from the vocabulary that prevents conversation between people on opposite ends of the spectrum, do you know what I mean? I used to feel this way talking with Aaron about theology: we agreed on many of the same basic principles but our values were so covered in left-leaning or right-leaning rhetoric that we didn't realize it at first.

    And maybe you wouldn't be so mad at the TV if you weren't watching Fox News. ;)

  3. I think I know what you mean- and it wasn't Fox News I was mad at- it was Obama and all of his ridiculous comments on the subject- I'm so over left vs right with this- I have my opinions and I get super pissed at anyone who I think is just talking to talk....