Immigrants and other neighbors God told me to love, Part 2

I applaud, for whatever motives, that I was invited a “National Strategy Session and Advocacy Day” convened this week in Washington by Mark Shurtleff, Republican Attorney General of Utah.  I was interested in the meeting—any meeting that has both Jim Wallis and Grover Norquist on the list of participants would be a draw if only for sheer curiosity.  Unfortunately, my schedule did not make going possible.  So I sent on these thoughts to the organizers.  I don’t know if they are a solution and I am sure I have not thought of so many things.  But I have not only spoken with political leaders in my community, I have also spoken with undocumented persons, to hear and understand their stories.  So, here I stand.  I am praying for all of you today and tomorrow and hoping that out of all the mixed motives, genuinely different philosophies and opinions, that something humane, just and morally right might emerge.

Dear Mark and Fellow Leaders:

Thank you for your invitation to me to attend the meeting next week in Washington to consider immigration reform.  It is an impressive group and agenda and I wish the best for it.  Undertaking the task of finding a common sense solution to immigration reform is daunting indeed.  While I will not be able to attend the meetings next week, I am very interested in the issue and would like to support the process.  We have seen, with Alabama HB 56, that immigration on a state by state approach is difficult to enforce and ultimately a mistake.  We need a sensible and comprehensive fix.   I have attached a few ideas to send along to be my voice on the question, and copied it to my congressman and senators.  I promise to be supportive and voice that support for good ideas built from consensus to resolve this knotty problem.  I also recognize that no solution on a national basis is “easy.”  With that recognition, I send this along to you and assure you of my continued interest.

The desire to protect our borders is a good idea, one that is absolutely something any government should do.  A punitive nature and harsh spirit in the law, however, defeats its purpose.  Obviously, making the rules clear and then abiding by them is important.  We are not going to deport 10-12 million people, but we can surely face where we are without saying, “Laws don’t matter.”  Terrifying children, overreacting with police force or brutalizing weak and vulnerable strangers is not what America is about.  So here are the ideas I have thought about the past few years, given where we are at the moment.

  1. Why not have a temporary, renewable worker status that lets farmers and construction companies hire without fear or the creation of an overburdened bureaucratic responsibility?   The e-verify, if changed from a punitive to a compliance tool, seems to be a key.
  2. If the temporary worker category were created to be annually renewable based on continuing employment and registration with some kind of administrative fee to help hire the people to run it (jobs!), then Homeland Security could spend more time doing its protective job.  It is drug dealers, criminals and terrorists we want to find, not painters and tomato pickers and small business owners.
  3. Why not emphasize encouraging compliance before punishment, encourage people to come out of the shadows?  People with felony criminal records—out you go.  Others?  Hard working, good people?  Don’t award them citizenship, but it is unnecessary to ship people out while they try to earn a living.  Just expand the pool and provide some kind of annually renewable, fee based temporary work status, requiring e-verify and a criminal background check.  Then you can be here and still go to the back of the line for citizenship.  Meanwhile, you pay taxes, SS, and carry your weight.  This is a market-based solution in which competition for labor and jobs takes care of itself.  Governments that spend all their resources on policing, punishing and deporting have little left for all else.  If a man can do a job and the economy needs it done, if we create the legal path to do it, great.  We’re better off.
  4. Those who won’t participate can then be deported or leave.  But families do not live in fear of arrest, imprisonment with little recourse or rights.  This would require a period of time, perhaps six months or a year, in which those not registered would have time to go to designated places to register and be verified.  This is the trickiest bit.  They will fear, and so the immigrant communities themselves must assist in making it work.  Truthfully, I believe most who come here want only a fair shot.  And on the other side, the word “amnesty” is political poison, but why not frankly admit, “We’re in a mess.  It’s time to start the game over.”  Here are the rules.  Everyone has a year to come forward, declare your presence here, get verified, and begin the legal process in the right way.
  5. What you would do is to create the mechanism by which “illegal” would refer to everyone who refused to accept the new and clearer rules.  We would say, in effect, “Are you in school here?  Have a job?  Lived here ten years or all your life?  We have reformed the rules and here is what they are.  Everyone is welcome to apply to stay, here are the conditions, and at the least you have to e-verify, pay a fee, renew it annually as long as you are here to continue here.  It is not citizenship, although you must pay taxes like everyone else.  Access to social services would have to be figured out, but is there not a way to do this, also?  It seems that the problem is lost tax revenue and fear-based governance does not encourage it.  Instead, we have an underground economy.  Better to simply get people “in the open” and let them compete on a fair and impartial basis in a competitive economy.
  6. There are millions of valuable, hard-working human beings here undocumented (which I prefer to “illegals” which you could just as well apply to people with outstanding parking tickets—we don’t deport them) who could, with a sane system, help bring our economy back, as immigrants have always.  At any rate, these are my thoughts after considerable reflection on this issue.

I surely know there are many things I have not thought of.  But these are my best thoughts.  I am hopeful that we are in a good moment for this issue.  I am glad you are meeting and the breadth of the gathering, theologically as well as politically, is encouraging.  Go for solutions, practicality and implementation.  My prayers for your success together.

Gary Furr

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About the Author
Dr. Gary Furr has been a pastor since 1979, and has been pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church since 1993. Dr. Furr has a B.A. in religion from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, an M. Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. and the Ph.D. in religion from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he graduated in 1986. He is called on often as a speaker in conferences and retreats in the areas of worship and spiritual formation and has written widely, including Ties That Bind: Life Together in the Baptist Vision with Curtis Freeman and The Dialogue of Worship with Milburn Price and, most recently, For Faith and Friendship, published by Insight Press. He has served as an adjunct professor of religion at Samford University in the religion department and the Beeson Divinity School. Gary is an avid musician, playing the guitar and singing with an acoustic band called Shades Mountain Air for over ten years and performing widely in the South at colleges, churches and civic functions. They have produced two CDs and he recently recorded a solo CD of original material and serves as the local chapter coordinator of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.

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  • Dave Francis

    Let the Liberal progressives do what they want in
    the next four years, such as tax and spend and whatever issue they have in
    mind? Then sit back and watch the raging Socialist agenda implode as the
    general population sees their country being taken over by bloated government,
    reducing energy supplies of oil, national gas and the closing of the coal
    industry. Then after this Liberal Socialist financial tidal wave, let the wrath
    of the average American tear through the ranks of these fools that run this
    country. Watch as the hard core
    Democrats cut funding to border enforcement, and instituting a new illegal
    alien amnesty and you paying for everything; educating their large family
    progeny, their medical care and treatment, their low cost government homes. After the stock markets shake with fear, more
    small businesses going broke and large corporations send out feelers for less
    taxed countries to set up shop. Even more involvement of government in
    influencing our freedoms, The joke will be on the American people, with even
    more unemployment, closing businesses and the distributing of even more
    entitlement; even more welfare for illegal migrants, even more grand “Rules and
    Regulations” to stifle the creation of small businesses and a sky rocketing
    deficit at state and federal level and this country on the edge of a even
    larger red ink abyss.

    The American
    worker whether Democrat or Republican should do the right thing for the huge
    jobless population and demand that the temporary tenant in the Oval office, and
    all the sub tenants in Washington that thrive on the misery of citizens and
    honest green card holders pass “THE LEGAL WORKFORCE BILL”. E-Verify is not
    perfect, but it’s all we have to eject the millions of illegal labor from job
    market? Throw out Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada as he is like death dealer of any
    bills in Congress and refuses to allow any reasonable compromise. Stop the
    massive national theft of Social Security numbers, and install an official ID
    with a fingerprint or retina scan for all citizens. Approve an amendment to the
    14th Amendment, “THE BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP BILL” to sever the
    growing problem of millions of pregnant women arriving here with unborn babies,
    to intentionally steal the public assistance programs from our own children,
    our elderly and homeless. Illegal aliens are stealing our future, the rising
    need for more taxes and our way of life. Both political parties are entirely to
    blame, driven by greed, big labor, big religion and the never ending hunt for
    more votes. States that had no election restrictions on absentee ballots,
    voting stations was very likely compromised by non citizens voting and now our
    future is open to expectations.

    Incidentally the voters placed these idiot dead
    beats in the Illinois assembly, now they must suffer the consequences as giving
    drivers licenses to ILLEGAL ALIENS? These people already know to play the
    welfare game, as the Pew Research Center admits over one third of foreign
    nationals are on welfare with their kids in our schools and filling the
    overcrowded emergency rooms in community hospitals.

  • Thinking About It

    Frankly, from the standpoint of history, some things never change. Every wave of new immigration encounters the same nativist fears.

    “Few of their children in the country learn English … The signs in our streets
    have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation
    could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.” – Benjamin Franklin, on German immigration to Pennsylvania, 1750s

    “Now, what do we find in all our large cities? Entire sections containing a
    population incapable of understanding our institutions, with no comprehension of our national ideals, and for the most part incapable of speaking the English
    language. Foreign language information service gives evidence that many
    southern Europeans resent as an unjust discrimination the quota laws and
    represent America as showing race hatred and unmindful of its mission to the
    world. The reverse is true. America’s first duty is to those already within her own shores.” – Representative Grant Hudson, 1924

    When immigration is ended completely, we will collapse far sooner from the death of aspirations and innovation than the threat of poor people wanting to rise up. Time for a new conversation.