Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Time to Rejoice

I am celebrating today. The more I read about the change in immigration policy that President Obama announced yesterday, the more I like it. It's a good move. It's the right move. While I do not doubt that the change, or at least the timing of it, was politically calculated, that doesn't make it wrong. It simply makes President Obama an astute politician.

My enthusiasm for this positive change is tempered only by the strong negative reaction I hear from so many. I must confess that I do not understand those who oppose this move. The opposition seems to derive from a mindset that views strict enforcement of laws over basic humanitarian principles. But I think that such a response to this change in policy really demonstrates the values of God's kingdom. Those affected by this new policy did not choose to break the laws of our country, so to say they must bear the full penalty for doing so seems to me extreme and unnecessary. It says that justice triumphs over mercy, which is not how I read it in my Bible.

The people who will benefit directly from this policy are in all significant ways Americans already. They may lack the official documents of residency and citizenship, but they have grown up here and identify this place as their home, not Mexico or some other country from which they came years ago. Sending them back to a place they don't really know, whose language and culture are in fact foreign to them, is cruel and unjust. Furthermore, the policy supports those who have the potential to contribute to the United States. They have received or are receiving an education here. Some have served in our armed forces. Deporting them robs our country of valuable members of society. These young people contribute to society, not take from it. In a newspaper article I read this morning, one young local woman of Mexican origin said:

“We want to give back. We're not here just to take, we want to give back to this leaders, great leaders who inspire others.”

The same young woman also stated:

“I was raised here, my culture (is) here. I wouldn't call (Mexico) home.”

The largely partisan objections to President Obama's announcement ignore the reality of the individuals who will benefit from this change. They focus on the politics of the decision, ignoring the roadblocks Republicans have put in the way of enacting similar legislation in Congress as well as the fact that the policy change Obama has implemented comes largely from a proposal by a Republican congressman. Apparently if Obama adopts an idea originally promoted by Republicans, the idea suddenly becomes toxic. Those who object to this change also seem to see the world in black and white. You're either an illegal immigrant or you're not. If you are, you're a criminal and a drain on American society and the only suitable and appropriate way to treat you is to get you out of our country as fast as possible. There's no middle ground, no recognition that many cases are not so clear-cut. It's a false dichotomy and it's a wrong, unhelpful approach, especially since it affects the lives of real individuals.

This change in immigration policy is a sensible, humanitarian response to a difficult situation. It is not the final solution, but it is a positive step. I celebrate this as a small victory in the effort to adopt a more open, inclusive immigration policy, as I have written about over the last few days (here and here). If those who oppose this change would adopt a more cooperative, constructive approach to resolving immigration issues, the president would not be compelled to accomplish positive change through presidential decree. But until that day, I'll gladly welcome such small steps as can be taken.

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