Rejecting the idea of amnesty for America’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, some advocates of comprehensive immigration reform insist that the undocumented must qualify for a pathway to citizenship. Such advocates style themselves as respecters of law and practitioners of compassion.
One wonders, however, what these folk really think about Hispanics and what they really know about the situation on the ground.
Given what we are learning about immigration through documentary interviews with American faith leaders, legal residents and undocumented migrants in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas and North Carolina, we question the sincerity of some so-called comprehensive immigration reform advocates.
When they say that undocumented immigrants must learn to speak English, are they saying the undocumented don’t want to speak English?
When they argue that undocumented immigrants must pay back-taxes, are they arguing the undocumented haven’t already paid taxes – sales taxes, property taxes, Social Security taxes?
When they suggest that undocumented immigrants must go to the back of the line in their country of origin and wait their turn to enter legally the United States, do they believe there is an actual line in which the undocumented can stand?
Again and again, interviewees have pointed out that immigrants want to learn English. The undocumented know the necessity of speaking English in order to gain employment and find acceptance.
Interviewees have also noted that the undocumented pay taxes. In fact, the undocumented pay into Social Security and will never benefit from that tax payment.
But no argument is more uninformed and disingenuous than the back-of-the-line argument. Obtaining the legal documents necessary to enter the United States is next to impossible.
“There is no line because there are no visas available to line up for,” said Catholic Bishop Anthony Taylor.
“We’re dealing with poor people who don’t have the resources to go to their country of origin, wait a period of time – no way to support themselves, no way to provide for their families, no way to keep current on their house payments,” he told us during an interview in his Little Rock office.
Taylor said there is “no logical reason” to advocate for the undocumented to go to the back of the line “except that we want to inflict suffering on these people.”
The soft-spoken bishop said the back-of-the-line argument shows “at least ignorance. It may be malice – make people pay, make people hurt.”
Born in Texas and reared in Oklahoma, Taylor has had abundant experience with the Hispanic community.
Before being named bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock in 2008, he was pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Oklahoma City, where 95 percent of his parish members were Hispanic. He saw the hardships his parishioners experienced and recognized the harshness of a 2007 Oklahoma law, which was then considered the toughest anti-immigrant law in the country.
In Arkansas, his diocese is 55 percent Hispanic.
Soon after becoming bishop, Taylor’s first major statement was on immigration. It was titled, “A Pastoral Letter on the Human Rights of Immigrants.”
“I believe that the major current issue about which American Catholics are most confused today has to do with immigration. Many people simply do not have accurate information,” wrote Taylor.
He addressed in his pastoral letter one of the flashpoints in the immigration debate – amnesty.
“The word ‘amnesty’ is not appropriate. Amnesty is forgiveness of someone who is guilty of a crime. Most undocumented immigrants come to this country in the exercise of their God-given human rights,” wrote Taylor.
The bishop noted, “There was no talk of ‘amnesty’ of those ‘guilty’ of civil disobedience during the lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights era. They were defending their human rights in obedience of a higher law. In the case of Jim Crow laws, it was the law itself that was criminal in the eyes of God, not those who disobeyed it.”
Rather than concentrate on those who cross the border without legal papers in search of a way to provide for their families, Taylor contended that Americans should focus on “fixing the broken laws themselves: broken in the sense that they do not work and cannot work because they impede rather than facilitate the exercise of the God-given rights of migrants.”
A board member of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Taylor advocates for the rights of the immigrant community. He spoke against Oklahoma’s 2007 anti-immigrant bill and for the Dream Act when it was considered in the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2010.
Taylor has told young seminarians that he will not ordain them to serve in Arkansas if they are not bilingual.
“Our English speakers learn Spanish. Our Spanish speakers learn English to serve the whole church,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s immigration position makes sense. It’s rooted in the biblical witness, grounded in first-hand experience and informed by a deep knowledge of the issue.
His pastoral letter on immigration deserves the attention of those who are really in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.