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By Gabriel Salguero and David P. Gushee
Esperanza for America
and New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
We write together representing the partnership of two groups of White and Brown Evangelicals who have an uncompromising commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We hold dearly that two fundamental tenets of the Gospel are to love your neighbor and to be hospitable to the stranger. It is with this commitment in mind that we write this letter to our fellow Americans, especially our fellow Christians. We pray that the conscience of this country would remember that the truest test of America’s character is how it treats the stranger, widow, and orphan. We write to provoke that conscience.
In recent days much of the nation’s attention concerning immigration has focused on the signing of the SB1070 legislation in Arizona. Among other things this law requires local law enforcement to inquire about a person’s legal immigration status if they think there is any suspicion or question regarding the person’s status. This law navigates dangerously close to an enforcement-only policy and lends itself to the very perilous and undemocratic practice of racial profiling.
What criteria would law enforcement use to determine if one is to be suspected of being an illegal or undocumented immigrant? Is there a certain phenotype or look that determines suspicion? Perhaps overhearing the speaking of Spanish might be relevant? There are very good reasons why the passing of this law in Arizona has sent a shudder of fear through the entire Latino community in the United States.
In this country we have not required or insisted on people carrying documentation to prove their citizenship. The passing of this law in Arizona runs the danger of exposing many of our brothers and sisters of color to being harassed, detained, and arrested without cause. It threatens to unleash forces of hatred against Brown-skinned Americans that are already barely contained in this nation.
This is disastrous. It is not in keeping with Christian principles or, for that matter, with basic American values. Think about other provisions of the law. Clergy and people of good will could be arrested for keeping Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor by, for example, offering someone a ride to church, school, or work. As Evangelical Christians we cannot refuse to serve and love the immigrant, legal or not. We will not begin screening immigrant status on Sunday morning in our churches. The Gospel will not allow it. We answer to a higher authority.
This odious law threatens to divide children from their parents. It emphasizes enforcement without offering any common-sense or workable solutions to immigration challenges. It threatens to alienate and strain existing healthy relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities. It could leave these communities defenseless before predators who can exploit their fear of local police. The SB1070 law will create an ecology of fear, scapegoating, and abuse.
We are deeply concerned that this legislation in Arizona may set a nefarious precedent around the country and will be imitated by other states. All this will not solve our immigration challenges but further tear the country apart. Latino Americans will feel all the more cornered and rejected all over the country.
For some time many leading White Evangelicals have joined Brown Evangelicals and argued that comprehensive immigration reform is what is best for this country. They have said in press conferences and statements that such reform reflects our principles of loving God and loving neighbor. Now, in the teeth of fear and reactionary hysteria, such White Evangelicals must do more. They must stand up for Christian principle in a more costly way. They must act to make immigration reform a reality right now. They must decry the Arizona legislation as inconsistent with our Christian faith.
In particular, we address our many Evangelical brothers and sisters who have for years advocated a Gospel that seeks reconciliation and integration of the whole human family. These Evangelicals have known that if we claim “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” we must also live out that confession in solidarity as one family. Evangelicals who claim to care about racial integration and reconciliation must act now. Silence is not an option. Silence is complicity.
Just as Evangelicals in times past have stood together on the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and global struggles against poverty, religious persecution, and AIDS/HIV, we must once again demonstrate a mosaic of solidarity around comprehensive immigration reform–a reform that reflects God’s mandate to remember the stranger for we were once strangers.
We are asking our Evangelical brothers and sisters to use that moral courage that has often led to some of the most sweeping moral reforms in this country and around the world to act on behalf of the immigrants among us. We are calling on national and local leaders to lift their voices with us and say no to Arizona’s reactionary immigration law while pressing Congress for comprehensive immigration reform now.
Immigration reform is a spiritual and moral issue that requires Christians to live up to the meaning of our creed. If Christ welcomed me unconditionally should I do any less with others? Silence is not an option.