Georgia seems to be well on its way to an Arizona-style immigration law. Sixty-eight percent of Georgians polled by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are in favor of it. Republicans Karen Handel and Nathan Deal are leading the charge toward Arizona, and Democrat Roy Barnes is shrinking before it.
This is awful. I have taught undocumented immigrants in high school for many years, and I find them an inspiration rather than a burden. They work hard, make good grades, star in sports and school plays, overcome adversity, smile in the face of poverty and turn the other cheek to racism. They believe in America and the American Dream. Despite their status, they are some of the most American kids I teach.
Yes, their parents broke the law when they came here, but so often they only did it to help families in desperate situations. But for the grace of God go we, and who among us would choose the law over our children? What kind of parents do that? In our broken system, visas can take 10 years or often never, and families are suffering right now. There’s often no choice of legal or illegal, but a dilemma of whether to come illegally or not at all.
We, on the other hand, have a real choice. No disrespect to Arizona, but we can do better. We are the Bible Belt. We Georgians take our ideals seriously and our Scripture literally. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
If we are really willing to listen, then the preponderance of Scripture speaks clearly on this topic. A central theme of the Old Testament is treatment of the alien. Leviticus 19:34 states most clearly: “Love the alien living among you as yourself. You were once aliens in Egypt.” This verse surely applies to our own nation of immigrants.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells us: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” He teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And in Matthew 25, he admonishes us to “welcome the stranger” and warns of eternally dire consequences if we do not.
There are far fewer verses about obedience to human authority because obviously there is a higher law. The noble criminal activity of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the tea party movement of the 1770s, and the criminal death of our Savior and so many of his martyred followers attest to this truth.
But don’t take my word for it. Christian leaders of practically every denomination and ideology have spoken forcefully, eloquently and passionately in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Even the very conservative National Association of Evangelicals has taken a strong stand to the left of former Gov. Barnes.
Instead of giving into the demagoguery, we the people of Georgia must pray, read the Bible and listen to our Christian leaders. As Christians, when we meet our maker, we will regret it if we don’t stand up for God’s chosen people: the vulnerable and voiceless.
When Christ was in peril, Pontius Pilate manipulated popular passions, and Simon Peter cowered before them. As followers of Christ, let us not be cynical or fearful concerning this issue, but prayerful and courageous.
Sean McKenzie of Calhoun, Ga., holds a doctorate in political theory from the University of Florida. He is a member of GALEO, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. He marched for immigrant rights in Washington, D.C., with more than 200,000 others this past March.
Sean McKenzie is a Methodist in Calhoun, Georgia, who teaches high school and holds a doctorate in political theory from the University of Florida.