by Jan Snider, United Methodist Communications
February 2013—I smiled at the police officer when I got arrested, like I am delighted to be put under arrest. But the truth is, like any proper “Southern Lady,” I was simply being polite; I’ve long held that good manners are as important as the right color of lipstick. Even when you’re wearing handcuffs.
OK, I admit that visiting the Obamas without an express invitation is rather scandalous, but sometimes even a good girl has to raise a ruckus to be heard. That’s why on President’s Day I flew to Washington, D.C., to stand with people of faith in front of the White House to protest the big ’ol mess we call our immigration system.
My mama taught me never to discuss religion and politics, and I don’t mean to be unpleasant, but there are things I just have to say.
I chose to stand with my brothers and sisters of The United Methodist Church and other persons of faith in demanding immediate change toward a more actively humane, just and compassionate approach to immigration. Christians often wish for clarity from the Scriptures on important social issues. Nowhere is Jesus more clear than on the issue of immigration, where in Matthew 25 he provides not only his command to us but his judgment if we do not comply.
So, together we prayed, sang hymns and called for the end to unjust deportations and for passage of comprehensive immigration reform. When police asked (politely) for us to leave, we refused, and in response they gave us a lovely lights and siren escort to jail. Thirty-two of us were arrested.
My mama was shocked by my very public and unladylike display!
But, I’m a mama too, and that’s why I felt compelled to protest current policy that separates mamas from their children. Our laws have resulted in nearly two million deportations since 2007—many of them from nonviolent offenders who simply do not and cannot acquire documentation to be here. That’s millions of mamas and daddies being separated from their children because our great nation can’t get its act together when it comes to immigration policy.
I know this is the point where a whole posse of patriots will say, “Illegal is illegal.” But it’s not that simple. And I can throw a hissie fit about that argument (but ya’ll won’t listen). Fact is, when our nation targets nonviolent, productive, salt-of-the-earth, hardworking families for not having the right papers—well, that just ain’t right.
So not only did we prayerfully consider our public witness, we also chose to be “undocumented.” Acting in solidarity with some of our immigrant brothers and sisters with us, we did not bring identification that would have resulted in short processing and a minor fine. Bless their hearts, this really threw the police for a loop. We did this because our laws do not provide a legal means for way too many immigrants to be here “the right way,” even though our nation needs nearly half a million low-skilled, immigrant workers a year and our system only provides about 5,000 visas.
It comes down to real people, and real lives. When a parent is deported, it is often done swiftly without any provision for the tragedy that befalls the family. If undocumented parents have any choice at all, it is to bring their children with them to live in poverty and uncertainty or leave them behind in the United States with the potential to thrive.
I once met a 16-year-old born in the United States whose parents were deported. It was like a tornado suddenly swooped down and destroyed everything the family ever knew. Though her 12-year-old sister didn’t speak the native language and had never been outside the United States, she went with her parents. But the family decided that the teenager had a better future living in the United States alone than what she risked by living an impoverished existence in a crime-ridden country.
Not possessing the correct documents is a federal civil offense; deportation for simply being undocumented is akin to shooting a fly with a cannon. We need to rework our laws to better reflect the economic realities of our labor needs and the biblical values we so vehemently profess. I’m just sayin’.