The nation awaits in June the looming Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s anti-immigration law, known as SB 1070.
SB 1070 makes it a crime in Arizona for an individual to fail to carry necessary immigration documents and requires law enforcement to question an individual’s immigration standing if officers think the individual is undocumented.
It also makes it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to work or look for work in Arizona.
Anti-immigration forces are now “gearing up” to push similar laws in state legislatures in 2013 – if the Supreme Court supports parts of Arizona’s law as some court watchers expect that it will.
“We’re getting our national network ready to run with the ball, and saturate state legislatures with versions of the law,” said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, in an Associated Press story. “We believe we can pass it in most states.”
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, believes that when oral arguments were heard in April that some justices “sent a clear signal that there’s a huge zone for state action in this area.”
As many as a dozen states will explore next year components of SB 1070 that the Supreme Court upholds.
Likely states would include Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah.
If anti-immigration forces are gearing up, what then should goodwill people of faith do?
What does it mean to be proactive, rather than reactive? That is, late to the game, engaging the issue when it’s too late to make a difference.
We know what happened when the Alabama faith community ignored the current governor’s anti-immigration campaign promises. The state legislature pursued successfully a bill that was even more extreme than Arizona’s SB 1070.
William Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, confessed that he and others “were slow to realize” what was happening.
“It has proven to be infinitely more difficult to speak against a law that has been duly constituted,” he told some 300 Tennessee faith leaders who took a number of proactive initiatives to address the anti-immigration forces over the past six months.
One initial proactive step for Christians is to use the educational documentary “GospelWithoutBorders” in churches.
The documentary separates myth from fact on issues such as taxation, public benefits, and the mythical line for obtaining entry documentation. It examines what the Bible says about treatment of the “stranger,” shows the experiences of documented and undocumented immigrants, and provides handles for Christians to advance the common good.
Another step is to obtain a better understanding of where our culture is on this issue.
Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has released a helpful fact sheet on immigration.
PRRI said that a majority of every Christian tradition backs a comprehensive immigration reform plan that would “both secure the borders and provide an earned path to citizenship.”
Sixty-eight percent of Catholics favor such an approach, compared to 58 percent of black Protestants. Fifty-seven percent of white mainline Protestants support comprehensive immigration reform, and 54 percent of white evangelicals do.
Americans also strongly support the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is a proposal that would allow children who entered the United States with their undocumented parents to obtain legal status if they either served in the military or went to college.
According to the fact sheet, 57 percent of Americans support the DREAM Act, while 40 percent oppose it.
A much higher percentage of younger Americans favor the DREAM Act compared to older Americans. Sixty-nine percent of Millennials favor it, while 48 percent of senior adults do.
Support for deporting undocumented immigrations is split: 51 percent favor it, 48 percent oppose deportation.
Support for deportation has increased by 9 percentage points since 2010, the same year that Arizona passed its draconian law.
Knowing where our country is according to an opinion survey will help congregational leaders speak informatively about the issue.
Using a documentary that explores how Christians address the issue in five different states will help church members better understand what their faith says about treating the undocumented with dignity.
If anti-immigration forces are gearing up, wouldn’t it be prudent for goodwill Christians to gear up as well?
RobertParham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friendhim on Facebook.