Saturday, May 19, 2007

Immigration Arguments

The immigration debate continues to build in the US, especially here in Arizona where the border is long, mostly unguarded, and busy with illegal immigrants crossing. The new immigration bill put forward by Congress last week seems like a hopeful step, but I wouldn't be surprised if it meets the fate of most other compromise bills- opposed by each side because it doesn't give either side enough of what it wants. I hope the parties can see the wisdom in compromising, given that the alternative is continuing to do nothing, but sometimes wisdom seems to be lacking in Washington DC...
Something that bothers me, though, is the amount of hostility I hear from many people, including Christians, towards illegal immigrants. My 8th grade students (who have never been known to think of facts when an opinion of their parents will do) hardly have to hear a mention of illegal immigrants before their righteous (and sometimes racist) indignation boils over. Back in April, we had just finished viewing a video about some people in East Germany who built their own hot air balloon to escape communism and get to West Germany. The kids seemed very sympathetic to the family- 'they were so brave', etc. But when I asked them if this made them feel differently about the immigration debate in Arizona, they instantly switched their position. 'Lazy, taking jobs from Americans', etc. (And of course the kids thought of these things all on their own, because 8th graders LOVE to sit around discussing social policy in their free time :-) But anyway, it's a symptom of a much greater mood in the country. And I've heard many adults hold a very black-and-white position too: 1. People are breaking the law to immigrate. 2. Lawbreakers should be punished.
Now, both those points are true, I admit. However, I can't help but feel that the blame is being grossly misplaced in this situation. Maybe it's my empathetic nature (wanting to take care of sick kittens and all that), but I truly think that people's anger should be directed much less at the immigrants and more at the Mexican government and NAFTA trading partners that continue to make conditions ripe for immigration. There's a mental analogy that I keep thinking of lately:
Two pastures of sheep, side by side, separated by an (old and broken) fence. On one side, the grass is green and lush, the water trough is sparkling, there are shady trees, and the sheep are content and fat (maybe a little too fat). The little lambs gambol about happily, not a care in the world. On the other side, the grass is scrubby and patchy, the wind stirs up dust that clogs the sheeps' eyes, the water trough has mold in it, and the sun is hot and dry. The little lambs are skinny and coughing and hardly have energy to play. Now there is a gate between these two pastures, but there's a sign on it that says only one out of 100 sheep in pasture 2 will be chosen to go to pasture 1 (though a rich sheep can pay off the gatekeeper too). There's a law that says no other sheep in pasture 2 can go over to pasture 1.
So it seems to me, as I think of that scene, that there should be anger at the shepherds who care for the sheep. There should be anger at the land-management company. There should be anger at the groundskeepers. There should be calls for change and reform in all those areas. But, I think, there should be a great deal more sympathy and understanding for those poor sheep. I know what I would do if I was in pasture 2.

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