Alabama seems content to cut off its nose to spite its face on the issue of immigration. That’s the impression one gets anyway based on the consequences — which government officials should have foreseen — of the state’s new immigration law.
The measure, which took effect late last month, requires public schools to inform the government about students who can’t provide proof of legal residency and mandates that police check the papers of anyone they think might not be a legal resident.
Not surprisingly, schools already are reporting that some children have stopped coming to school. Farmers have lost workers to harvest crops. And, here’s the kicker: Some of these farmworkers are U.S. citizens or otherwise have permission to work here.
These are the effects of a shortsighted, enforcement-only approach to immigration reform: children afraid to go to school, crops left in fields to rot, and even legal immigrants leaving town because they fear for their spouses who don’t have legal status.
It should be clear that a law that provokes such fear and that could end up splitting apart families isn’t a good approach for dealing with today’s immigration challenges.
But, it isn’t clear to enough people — not in a society that too often debates important issues in slogans and sound bites and that elects too many lawmakers more interested in their political futures than what’s best for the future of the country.
Voice desperately needed
Our elected representatives in Washington have shown they are unable to move beyond deeply ingrained ideologies that are roadblocks to the meaningful dialogue, sensible compromise and political courage necessary to pass comprehensive federal immigration reform — an overhaul that should take into account not only border security and the realities of 21st-century globalization but also the human dignity of the people subject to the laws. So states like Alabama are attempting to pick up the slack by passing laws of their own. Unfortunately, these state laws, more often than not, miss the mark.
This is why the voice of the church on the issue of immigration is so important.
Some will argue the church is overstepping its bounds when it weighs into debates over what are, in part, political issues.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
As the U.S. bishops have pointed out in their pre-election “Faithful Citizenship” statements, the church has an obligation to bring its convictions and concerns to the public square. That duty, protected by the Constitution, extends to issues like abortion, marriage and family life, poverty, health care, the environment and immigration policy.
In recent years, Minnesota’s bishops have echoed the voices of other U.S. bishops in calling for immigration reform that respects human dignity by:
• reuniting immigrant families and keeping them together.
• allowing for an earned legalization program that is realistic and fair for undocumented immigrants already here.
• restoring due process protections for immigrants.
• addressing the root causes of migration.
Taking the right approach
The church in Alabama has spoken directly and clearly about the problems with the state’s new immigration law, and a judge thankfully blocked a provision that threatened to criminalize much of the church’s outreach to undocumented immigrants.
Still, the Alabama law is an onerous one, much like other so-called “attrition-through-enforcement” laws enacted or being considered in other states. An effort to pass similar legislation in Minnesota has failed in the past.
Minnesota and other states would be wise to steer clear of laws that end up creating more problems than they solve; all of us should continue instead to push for meaningful reform on the national front and seek ways to welcome immigrants who are willing to work and contribute to building up our communities just as many of our immigrant ancestors did.