By David Atkinson
For those closely following immigration issues and debates, every day can seem to be a bad news day. The diatribes by anti-immigration officials and commentators become numbing with their angry repetition. But the ingrained perspectives of the voting public can be even more troubling.
We now enter the season when many organizations, on the far ends and in the middle of the political spectrum, are conducting polling to test 2024 themes and discover what might most motivate large blocs of voters. Some of these surveys square with preconceived notions or confirm what we largely suspect. Yet, there is always the prospect of a finding or two that stand out from conventional thinking or feed into our hopes for a turn for the better.
Such is not the case with this recent example, unfortunately. A new YouGov poll, part of a study by the Center for Working-Class Politics, takes a look at how Democrats are connecting with working-class people and where the president connects or misfires. Without doubt, this is an evaluation from the progressive side of the political landscape.
Here is the key painful finding: “The single most effective message in the poll was a vow to ‘protect the border’; decriminalization of the border was very unpopular.” Ouch. Reading that seems like the slap in the face from the old Skin Bracer ads, except there is nothing refreshing about it. The accepted terminology is heavily skewed. There is a border wall for considerable stretches of territory. That comes with checkpoints, surveillance, and enforcement by vehicle and horseback. To say that the border is wide open is a statement of partisan malice. To hope for a border that is fully secure is to yearn for something that never was and never will be. Just look how people have found ways to get through and over the former president’s big and beautiful wall.
When we look at the many ways large and small the so-called immigration system penalizes border crossers, the notion that there is something called decriminalization afoot is gross misrepresentation. Declining to forcibly separate families is hardly the equivalent of rolling out the welcome wagon for one and all. No ceasefire has been called on deportations.
How do advocates hope to bring about more humane immigration laws and policies when strident immigration opposition is a sure-fire applause line and vote-getter? The efforts by advocacy groups such as ELCA, LIRS, and LAMPa to remind everyone what the Bible, especially the gospels, has to say about how to receive and treat the other lays a firm foundation. But opponents are expert at cherry picking or distorting verses to justify their policies. Remember how southern preachers two centuries ago were somehow able to divine biblical sanction for slavery?
It is always a herculean effort to get the attention of those who do not care about seeing beyond rhetoric or doing the difficult work of sorting fact from fiction. And leadership that builds careers on habitually shortchanging the basic needs of citizens on subjects ranging from food security to health care to education is not going to be suddenly sympathetic to the woes of refugees, whether legal or illegal.
That is why it is so important for people of faith to support immigration advocacy, not just with hearts and minds, but with hands and wallets. To keep abreast of issues, to document discrimination, to support a growing array of resettlement services, to connect individuals and families with vital assistance of legal, language, and living needs, to give tolerance a place in the policy marketplace, these things require a great deal of resource. Striving to do that which is right and righteous is the charge we hear every time we read the Bible and reflect on its meaning.