Standing Against the E-Verify Ordinance

Some time ago in the Springfield News-Leader, there was an op-ed piece that called into question clergy and church involvement in the efforts to defeat the E-Verify ordinance.  Here is my response to that editorial:

In response to John Main of Pleasant Hope who wrote the words, “Shame on the local churches who are protesting E-Verify.  It’s not Christian that an unemployed American should have to compete with criminals for a job.  Since churches enjoy tax-exempt status, they ‘don’t have a dog in this hunt’ and should remain silent.”  To be Christian is to be a follower of Jesus and a follower of the way of Jesus.  As a member of the clergy, I am compelled to point out that the way of Jesus is the way of compassion, of reaching out to the least of these, of extending care to the poor, to the outcast, to the marginalized.  Members of the clergy and members of local churches who stand in opposition to the mandatory implementation of E-Verify do so precisely because they “have a dog in this hunt.”  They, like I, recognize that such a system targets a minority population in our country.  Such a system does nothing to encourage employers to hire only documented workers, it just drives the illegal hiring practices further underground.  Whether people want to admit it or not, our economy is dependent upon the work of undocumented workers.  They are often doing the jobs that citizens of this country won’t do and they are doing that work for less.  There is an unfair hiring practice in place on the part of many businesses that hire undocumented workers and then pay them in cash so they can get away with hiring workers for less.  And because such practices are done under the table, there are no protections in place for the workers.  These are the practices that lead to modern day slavery, which is one of the many reasons some Christians feel compelled to speak out against this ordinance.  When people claim that E-Verify will solve this problem of modern day slavery, they are failing to recognize that E-Verify does nothing to address the problem of employers paying their employees under the table.

Is illegal immigration a problem in the United States?  No doubt.  But I have to say one of the biggest problems is how it enables businesses to exploit human beings for the benefit of cheap goods and services.  We all want a good “deal.”  Sales at the supermarket or the mall drive many of our purchases.  Until we recognize that the great “deals” we come across each day are often made available to us because of the unfair employment practices of businesses by hiring undocumented workers who are not paid a fair (much less living) wage in order for us to have those great deals, and then work to do something about the exploitation of the undocumented worker, much of the problem of illegal immigration will remain.  E-Verify is not the solution to this problem.  And that is why I can call myself a Christian as I stand in opposition to its mandatory implementation.

Why I am Going to Vote No on Question 1 (E-Verify) on February 7

These are the words I shared on August 30, 2011 at a rally to stand against the E-Verify Ordinance that was going before City Council.  The ordinance did not pass the council’s vote and is therefore going before the people in an election this coming Tuesday, February 7.  I attended one of the Civility Discussions on the E-Verify Initiative last night at Central High School and I have to say, the blatantly racist comments of Jerry Wilson in his closing remarks (the racist nature of which, I am sure, he was oblivious)) have further compelled me to speak out against this ordinance and urge people to stand in opposition to politics and policies of fear and hate when they vote this coming Tuesday.

I invite you to hear these words from Scripture.  In Exodus 22:21, we find, “You shall not wrong or oppress the alien among us, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  And in Exodus 23.9, “You shall not oppress an alien among us; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  Leviticus 19.34 tells us “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” And finally, in Deuteronomy 24.14, we find these words, “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.”

When I heard that an anti-immigrant ordinance initiative was being put before the people of Springfield, one of the least diverse cities in the country, I must admit, I felt grave disappointment in yet another attempt to play on people’s fear.  There is so much fear-driven legislation being pushed through at city, state, and national levels and it all runs so contrary to my faith as a Christian.  I am against this initiative that seeks to further marginalize the Latino community by unnecessarily arousing the suspicions of employers and neighbors simply because of the color of a person’s skin or the presence of an accent when they speak.  My faith compels me to welcome the stranger.  My faith compels me to reach out to the outcast, to the marginalized. My faith compels me to speak out against hatred and fear-mongering.  And so I come here today to bear witness to the call of Jesus to welcome the stranger.  It’s right there, in Matthew 25, when Jesus addresses the judgment of the nations.  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was a sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  The call to compassion, to welcome, to love, is a much bigger call than we often live out.  Too many of us live out our lives as though that call extends only to those who look like us or sound like us.  But God is so much bigger than that.  Jesus also said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?…And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?”  We are called to do more.  We are called to live lives of greater love.  That is why I come here today.  Let’s work to make Springfield a community built on welcome and compassion, not a community built on fear and hate.