Immigration has been one of the hottest issues of the year, but I’ve avoided commenting on it because I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, for years I was in favor of an “open borders” policy–let anyone come here who wants to, for whatever (non-nefarious) reason. I’m the grandson of Polish and Lithuanian immigrants, and I’d like to think that the country that welcomed my grandparents during the massive wave of immigration in the first couple of decades of the 20th century still has plenty of room for those looking for freedom and opportunity. On the other hand, in an age of international terrorism, the safety of the population has to be a big factor in immigration policy, as does the rule of law–as long as there are legal requirements for entry into the United States, it’s incumbent on the government to enforce them.

Such is not the mindset, however, of a group called Interfaith Worker Justice of Arizona, which is looking for people to send a letter to the Sheriff of Maricopa County (Phoenix) opposing what it calls an “anti-immigrant hotline.” The left-wing PCUSA caucus called the Witherspoon Society has a copy of it on their web site:

As people of faith and conscience, we decry your announcement of a telephone hotline to be used by residents to report information or evidence relating to crimes involving illegal immigration or smuggling. In setting up such a hotline and publicly declaring it to be a weapon against illegal immigration, its worst use will be to incite neighbor against neighbor.

Let’s get this straight: these folks are opposed to citizens reporting “people smuggling,” an activity that is not only illegal but dangerous to those being smuggled into the country. So smugglers should be free to continue endangering people’s lives, dehumanizing them as cargo, and profiteering off of others’ desperation. Got it.

Inviting the residents of Maricopa County to report information about or evidence of crimes related to illegal immigration creates ear and tension in the community and thus achieves precisely the opposite effect: far from your role as a peace officer and in direct opposition to your stated desire to protect the residents of Maricopa County.

I think that the authors of this letter have confused law enforcement officers with social workers.

As people of faith and conscience, we believe that a measure of a government is in its protection of its most vulnerable residents.

Unless they are being smuggled into the country by others looking to make a buck, in which case the government should turn its back.

We believe that by opening such a hotline to the general public, persons of obvious ethnic identity will be “turned in” on the basis of little more than their skin color.

This has the sound of an over-active imagination. As of 2005, the population of 3,635,528 was 29% Hispanic. That means that over one million people would theoretically qualify as “persons of obvious ethnic identity.” It’s really hard to believe that one-third of the population will suddenly be the object of citizen snitches.My suspicion is that in a place like Maricopa County, the assumption will be that one is dealing with legal immigrants or citizens unless one has a reason to think otherwise.

As faith leaders and residents of Maricopa County, we suggest that citizen crime reporting is already accomplished under your other hotlines, ones that do not have the potential to target vulnerable residents.

Given what’s in the rest of this letter, I have to assume that the other hotlines to which the letter refers don’t deal with immigration-related crimes, in which case they don’t actually accomplish anything to inform law enforcement about such crimes. It also occurs to me that the tenor of this letter is that if there is a possibility for abuse or even mistakes when enforcing laws, then those laws should go unenforced.

There’s more, but that certainly gives you the basics. Those who are signing this letter–including the Rev. Trina Zelle, co-moderator of the Witherspoon Society who works for Interfaith Worker Justice and may be the author, that’s not clear–are essentially arguing for open borders without saying so. That’s a respectable position, though they should do so openly rather than implicitly (and don’t, I suspect, because they know that there is almost no support for such a position). But what’s really problematic is that, in the absence of an open borders policy by the government, they are also essentially arguing that laws should go unenforced, including those that would protect the vulnerable from those who would exploit them. Doesn’t sound like a progressive religious position to me.

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