georgia is not arizona, and its values are not our values. on the issue of immigration, our highest ideals dictate that we act in more humane fashion than arizona has. here’s why:
we speak with a southern voice.
in “southern voice,” tim mcgraw sings: “hi y’all didja eat? well, come in i’m sure glad to know ya!” at our best, we are welcoming, friendly, no airs, down-home and downright nice. this is why so many immigrants come here and become southerners. the immigrants that i have taught in high school over the years have been so easy to southernize and americanize. these kids believe god, family, and the american dream, and i believe in them.
“but their parents broke the law.”
none of our parents are perfect, but whites in the south are quite adamant that we should not be held responsible for the racist sins of even our recent ancestors. if this is the case, then the children of illegal immigrants should also not be punished for the actions of their parents. punishing kids for the sins of their fathers is not american, southern, or christian.
we are the bible belt
georgia is in the heart of the bible belt. if we are to call ourselves christian, we must look at this issue through a christian lens. religious leaders of every denomination and creed have spoken out against enforcement-only immigration policy. southern baptist leader richard land recently testified before congress on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform. dream act supporters used a methodist church as a base while lobbying washington last week. catholic leaders all over the world have championed the cause of the undocumented.
in god’s holy word, it says the following: “love the alien living among you as yourself.” (leviticus 19:34). jesus tells us: “blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” and “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (both from the sermon on the mount), and finally “when i was a stranger, you took me in…whatever you do for the least of these… so also you do for me” (matthew 25). we southerners do not believe that jesus was just kidding. god said it, i believe it, that settles it.
what part of illegal don’t we understand?
i live in calhoun, georgia, named for the vice president famous for arguing for the nullification of laws that seem unjust. we celebrate bootleggers when we watch nascar and “dukes of hazzard.” southern common sense dictates that the law guides but does not always determine our actions. i recently participated in an illegal, unconstitutional public prayer at a high school football game. am i an illegal christian?
in fact, our history is replete with unlawful heroes such as martin luther king, rosa parks, susan b. anthony, harriet tubman, thomas jefferson, john hancock, the original tea party movement, all the christian martyrs, and our savior himself, who was executed as a criminal. breaking the law does not always mean one is wrong. if i had the immigrant’s dilemma of obeying the government or providing for my family, i would choose my family. we in the south claim to despise government that does not promote family values.
for all these reasons, georgia is not arizona, and we should not follow arizona’s example. we will be judged by history and by our maker for how we treat our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. though the political winds blow hard in a terrifying direction, i pray that we act in a way that is worthy of our highest ideals and the better angels of our nature, not our demons and resentments.
sean mckenzie of calhoun is a methodist, a high school teacher, and soccer coach. he has taught, learned from, and been inspired by latino youth for many years.