Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Letter to the Editor of the St. Joseph News-Press re: MO SB 590

I wrote the following  for The Dialogue, the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.

Below is a letter I sent to the St. Joseph News-Press in response to a proposed law now making its way in the Missouri Senate regarding undocumented immigrants.  My perspective comes out of a deep belief that Jesus’ command of us to love our neighbors includes undocumented immigrants.  Similarly the Bible speaks strongly about people of faith showing hospitality to strangers and immigrants.  I hope you will join me in opposing Missouri Senate Bill 590.
Letter to the Editor of the St. Joseph News-Press

In his February 6 column, Steve Booher writes in support of Missouri Senate Bill 590, which would require local law enforcement to check the legal immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant and local school officials to check the status of every child in their schools.  Mr. Booher does not see a problem with local officials doing the job of the federal government or passing a law that has already been blocked by the courts in other states and sees no possibility that innocent people might be harassed by such procedures.  Much more reasonable was Ken Newton’s February 14 column which pointed out the burden this law would place upon our already overextended schools.  I hope Mr. Booher read Mr. Newton’s column.

SB 590 resembles in large part recent legislationpassed in Alabama.  That law’s provision requiring schools to check the status of children was immediately blocked by a federal court.  The provision requiring local law enforcement to check the status of anyone they suspected of being an undocumented immigrant resulted in, among other problems, the arrest of aGerman Mercedes-Benz executive and the ticketing of a Japanese Honda employee.  The state saw an immediate drop in interestfrom international business.  The effectsupon agriculture have been extremely negative since it depends upon immigrant laborers, who are now leaving the state.  In sum, the effects of the law have been so bad that Alabama’s governor and legislators who crafted and passed the law now all admit that it must be changed.

Given those disastrous results, why would we want a similar law in our state?  It would be far better if Missouri chose instead to pressure the federal government to retool our nation’s broken immigration system.  Instead of passing laws that would damage our state—laws designed for partisan political gain in an election year—our state government should be working to recognize the positive difference documented and undocumented immigrants make in our state and finding ways for all to have a path to work here legally.

In addition to not passing bad laws, I would ask our state leaders (and our local newspaper columnists) to each make an effort to meet and talk to just one family of undocumented immigrants.  Rather than finding threatening foreigners intent on destroying America, I believe they would look into the eyes of parents and children who want nothing more than a good safe life.  If they dared to set aside cheap political profit for the courage to look fellow human beings in the eye, I feel sure they would find not “illegals” or “criminals” but good people who only want what any of us want—a good community in which to raise our children.

I realize that expecting politicians and newspaper columnists to choose courage and human decency over xenophobia and scapegoating is perhaps not realistic, but I believe such virtues are possible—even in an election year.

Rev. Chase Peeples

No comments: