Arizona's Immigration Legislation Undermines Christian Values

by Jim Wallis and Rev. Max Rodas

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing a case about the constitutionality of Arizona's anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070. It will be months before the case is decided but a broad spectrum of the Christian community already has their minds made up. 

This legislation is not just ethically bankrupt but undermines basic Christian values and American ideals. The court will decide whether it is legal, but it is already clear it isn't moral.  

We are both evangelical Christians. One of us is white and one of us Hispanic. It is our common faith commitment, not the color of our skin, that unite us on the need for comprehensive immigration reform and in opposition to patchwork punitive legislation like we have seen in states like Arizona and Alabama. 

At the core of our Christian commitment is to love our neighbors and to speak out for and defend vulnerable and marginalized people. The Bible shows a special concern for those it refers to as "the stranger," what today we would call an immigrant. Because immigrants are often vulnerable to exploitation or discrimination, Christians should go out of their way to show both empathy and kindness to them as well as speak out for justice on their behalf.    

SB 1070 violates all of these principles and as a result families, churches and communities are being ripped apart. The goal of the legislation is to make life unbearable for undocumented people in an attempt to get them to "self-deport." Legislation intentionally designed to increase the suffering of any of God's children is unconscionable. It encourages mistrust and racial profiling through making anyone with brown skin or an accent automatically a suspect. And, it hurts Christian ministries that believe they should help those in need whether or not the needy can show their papers.

 We have a broken immigration system that is in desperate need for reform at the federal level. But, patchwork solutions on the state level that are based on enforcement without reform is the wrong way to go about it. Last week in Cleveland, more than 400 Latino Christians from 20 different congregations united for a voter registration drive and civic engagement campaign in the hope of getting national politicians to pay attention to the plight of Latino families and communities. 

Latino voters will be courted by politicians of both parties because they are an important demographic for anyone seeking the highest office in the land. But, candidates would do well to remember that many more Christians, regardless of racial or ethnic background, will be listening for both how candidates discuss immigration and what those candidates propose to do about it. 

We are writing together to say immigration is not just a Latino issue -- it is a Christian and a moral issue. On a national level, Christian groups united this week to hold a 48-hour vigil in front of the Supreme Court. There were mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics and Christians of all shapes and colors. They came together because they realize that the fate of all Americans is wrapped up into the fate of today's immigrants, documented or not. 

Enthusiasm levels for presidential candidates in this year's election are likely to be low. Many voters are sick and tired of the promises from partisan politics. While the current climate in D.C. is frustrating, it also opens up the opportunity to make this election more about issues than personalities. Activists and advocates with access to digital media and new means of online organizing have a greater opportunity than ever before to affect the priorities that are raised during this election.  

We are a nation of immigrants and our diversity is a strength, not a weakness. There are deeper values and commitments that bind us together than our ethnic background or country of origin. We are brought together by the dream of building a country where liberty and justice for all is not just a phrase but a reality. 

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

Rev. Max Rodas is Founder and Executive Director of Proyecto Luz, an HIV/ AIDS, faith-based initiative on the West Side of Cleveland the Executive Director of Nueva Luz Urban Resource Center, a larger umbrella organization addressing the root causes of systemic poverty and health inequities.