On April 21st of this year, I will be participating in a panel discussion on Immigration at The Awakening, an event sponsored by the Freedom Federation and Liberty Counsel in Orlando Florida. The panel is titled: Immigration: The Challenge to Get it Right. As I start to think about what I want to discuss during this panel, I am torn between what I consider to be the more obvious choice – immigration policy; versus a more difficult, and perhaps more politically germane choice – the effect of our immigration policies on our nation's racial compass. Of course, our nation's racial compass cannot be separated from our nation's moral compass. It is the nexus between the elements of morality and racial equality in our society, which in my opinion needs to be publicly addressed.
Considering that this discussion will take place in Orlando, this issue becomes particularly acute in the wake of the whole Trayvon Martin controversy that is gripping our nation today. It seems that despite that fact that we have elected our first President of color, we have not, as a nation, evolved beyond this difficult issue of racial tension in America. This has not been an easy evolution. The President has recently stated that our nation must "reflect" on this issue. In that he is correct, but I cannot help but wish that as President, he would have chosen to lead on this issue. It would seem that this President has been ideally suited to be a leader on the issue of racial equality. But alas, the President has not truly taken that lead as forcefully as I would have wished.
The issue of racial relations in America seems to always be boiling just below the surface of our national psyche, and naturally bubbles to the surface whenever a challenge to our values on this issue presents itself. These issues challenge us from both poles of our political spectrum; for example from the right when we talk about the harsh state immigration laws in Alabama or Arizona, and from the left, when we saw in 2008 that 90% of black Democratic primary voters voted for the black candidate, while 90% of female Democratic primary voters voted for the female candidate. It seems that when confronted with difficult choices, our nation tends to lean in the more comfortable direction of segregation instead of the more challenging direction of integration. We tend to look toward the interests of our own "tribe," instead of the greater interest of our national society. I think that we have to evolve beyond these narrow and selfish interests, to emerge through this evolution as a truly post racial America.
In terms of our immigration policy, this issue goes directly to the core of our whole post racial evolution. As my good friend, and Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform colleague Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has stated, "At the end of the day, immigrants will revitalize the American Church, reaffirm the values of faith, family and hard work while enriching the collective narrative of our American experience….a Just Integration Strategy requires the identification and deportation of serious criminals while providing a pathway to integration for those hard working individuals that commit and demonstrate proficiency in the English vernacular. In addition, integration requires admonition of guilt, payment of fines and demonstration of financial sustainability. For at the end of the day, immigration reform is a matter of faith; faith that America will do what is right, faith that our nation can once again come together, and faith that the words on the Statue of Liberty still ring with authenticity and hope."
It is Samuel's reaffirmation that, "our nation can once again come together," that is particularly germane to this discussion. By, "once again," he is actually reflecting on a more apt, "one more time." On the issue of racial intolerance, we can remember that as early back as Benjamin Franklin's time, even our founding fathers were not particularly welcoming, as Mr. Franklin stated about German immigrants, "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion."
Our nation has been challenged on this issue throughout its history. Besides our unwillingness to integrate people of color, particularly blacks into the mainstream of our society, we were very loath to welcome the Italians, the Irish, the Jewish, and even women into the mainstream. Begrudgingly, most outsiders have slowly made inroads into our mainstream, but progress has been awkward and slow – very slow.
When we begin to examine the fact that there are roughly 12,000,000 immigrants that are here illegally, our nation remains starkly divided on how to approach a solution to this very significant problem. In terms of working toward a post racial America, we must examine the moral obligations that we have as a Judeo-Christian based society. Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and also a Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform colleague, wrote on this issue, "As people of faith we must lead our churches to engage in multi-faceted human needs ministries on a massive scale to meet the physical and spiritual needs of millions of men, women and children living in the shadows of society where they are exploited by the unscrupulous and victimized by predators. As citizens, we also have a responsibility to help our nation respond to the plight of these millions of people in a manner that respects their innate dignity and humanity. The millions of undocumented workers living among us suffer as outcasts without the full protections of the law or full access to the opportunities this nation offers to all to fulfill their God-given potential."
I firmly believe that while we are a society that values personal responsibility, we must examine the issue of our undocumented immigrants as both a personal responsibility issue as well as a moral issue that demands compassion. I feel that we must work toward federal legislation that calls for personal responsibility, and reconciles that call through a compassionate lens. While it is of course true that these undocumented immigrants came here or stayed here in violation of our law, our nation was to some degree, (and many would argue to a large degree), complicit in their presence in America. After all, we had two "proverbial" signs on the border; No Entry, and Help Wanted. The fact of the matter is that our government and our businesses colluded to attract the millions of workers that are here illegally because our labor force needs required them to participate. It still does.
If we, as a nation, are in any measure complicit in the presence of these illegal immigrants, than we should accept the mantel of personal responsibility that we assumed when we colluded to allow them to come to, and/or stay in America. Let's face up to the fact that we are in large measure co-dependent on the presence of these undocumented immigrants to harvest our food, work in our factories, make our beds, mow our lawns, and clean our bathrooms. If we are co-dependent, and if we are to assume some measure of responsibility for their presence, then we owe it to our society to make this work, and to integrate these people into the mainstream. We must bring these people out of the shadows, and have them accept responsibility for their actions, even as we accept responsibility for our own actions. We must work to prevent a future flow of illegal immigrants, but treat the hard-working, god-loving, family oriented immigrants that we have allowed to come and participate in the American economy, to also integrate into our multi-racial society and to participate in the American Dream.
America is truly an exceptional nation. However, just because we have always been an exceptional nation, does not in any way guarantee that we will remain an exceptional nation. That responsibility falls upon the citizens of this great nation, to do the hard work required for us to remain exceptional in all things, and in all ways. We simply cannot reconcile the idea of our being a nation that allows 12,000,000 people to live in the shadows of our society, with the concept of being an exceptional nation. Those concepts are irreconcilable. We must do the hard work, and struggle to make our society one of inclusion, and not exclusion. We, as a nation of immigrants, must come to grips with the biblical, moral, and humanitarian values upon which our nation was built. We owe it to ourselves, and to our children to assure a future for our nation that values our compassion, our righteousness, and the societal benefits that a truly post racial and exceptional America can be proud of.