This week the Center Square Journal begins a semi-regular series of local opinion pieces from local leaders on current topics that relate to our community. This was first published in yesterday’s weekly email update.
Chicago has long been known as a ?City of Immigrants.? And whether you hailed from Dublin or the Danube, Krakow or Copenhagen, it was possible to find work, establish a home, and be a part of a community. The neighborhoods of the city took on the character of its new residents, giving us Bohemian influences in old Pilsen, Italian flavors on the Near West Side and, the sounds and smells of Germany in Lincoln Square.
The church that I serve, Ravenswood United Church of Christ (Pensacola Ave and Hoyne Ave) was founded by immigrants from Germany who moved first to Lincoln Park but then migrated northward in the early 20th Century to settle in the Ravenswood/North Center/Lincoln Square communities. Our worship was conducted in German up until the time of the World Wars and we still cherish the traditions given to us by our ancestors.
At the end of the church year we remember the deceased and our ancestors with special prayers and candles in a worship service known as Totenfest. In the fall, the church holds its own Oktoberfest, with German music, bratwurst and of course, plenty of beer ? God?s gift to humanity! The influence of our immigrant ancestors is present year round in the ways we make music, bake Christmas cookies, and worship our God. But a visit to our church today might put you in a pew next to people who were born in Costa Rica, Romania, the Philippines, Honduras, and yes Mexico ? the new faces of immigration in America. And so it is with great concern that we have cast our eyes westward as the State of Arizona addresses the immigration issue.
On the question of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the deceptively named Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, count this pastor as unequivocally opposed. I believe it to be the harshest, most mean spirited, anti-immigrant legislation to come out of any state in the nation in generations.
The Law?s provisions make it a state misdemeanor for an immigrant to be in Arizona without proper residency documentation and it requires police officers to inquire about a person?s citizenship status if they have ?reasonable suspicion? that they may be an undocumented immigrant. Furthermore, any person who provides shelter or transportation, or other assistance to an undocumented immigrant, knowingly or unknowingly, can be prosecuted under the law for aiding and abetting a criminal.
The law requires that all residents of Arizona be required to carry identification on them at all times and if an individual is stopped without identification and suspected of being an undocumented immigrant they will be arrested and held in jail until they provide the papers. This provision has prompted Roman Catholic Cardinal of Los Angeles, Roger Mahoney, to warn that Arizona is on the road to becoming an oppressive police state. It has given new meaning to the expression, Your birth certificate: Don?t leave home without it.
But what really has the nation up in arms is the requirement that police question people they suspect might be undocumented immigrants and ask them to provide proof that they are citizens. It is this element of the bill that has everyone asking, ?How will they know?? How will they know? How will the police know if the car that drove by them at 3 miles per hour over the speed limit was driven by a citizen or an undocumented immigrant? How will they know whether the man standing on the corner outside of the Seven-Eleven was born in this country or another? How will they know? ?Will the police judge by the color of a person?s skin? Will they judge by the language that they speak? Will they judge by the clothes they wear or the company that they keep? Will this law give license to racial profiling and empower the police to harass Latinos, including those who have lived in Arizona and been citizens for generations?
Inquiring minds are asking, ?How will they know??
I do not know how the Arizona police will be able to know who is an ?illegal immigrant? and who is a regular citizen. At traffic stops and on street corners, I do not know how they will be able to distinguish a Jose Ramirez who just crossed the border from a Joey Ramirez whose great-great grandfather was born in the Arizona territories. I suspect it will come with a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion and fear and injustice.
However, I do believe that people will be able to know who the Christians in Arizona, Illinois, and elsewhere are. They will be known by their actions and behavior. They will be known by the ways that they follow Jesus? commandment to love one another, even those people born in other lands.
The tribe of Christians will be easily identified as those people who speak out against this misguided and hateful piece of legislation. Christians will be recognized as those people who take Jesus directive to care for the least of these just as you cared for me, literally, by giving food and water to those immigrants crossing the deserts of Arizona, even though it is now illegal in that state to help them. As Jesus said, ?By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.? ?Let Arizona know that being an immigrant is not a crime. Oppose SB 1070.
Rev. Jason W. Coulter is pastor of?Ravenswood United Church of Christ. The views printed here are those of the author alone. They do not represent the position of Center Square Journal, Inc., its employees or shareholders. Those interested in submitting opinion pieces of their own may do so here.