The debate over immigration, particularly regarding those who enter the United States illegally (as Ms. Arellano did a decade ago), has become extremely divisive in this nation. Undoubtedly, along with the so-called "War on Terror" (specifically its Iraqi phase), the issue will continue to be a dominant one until we reach the November 2008 Presidential/Congressional election.
The questions I've wrestled with regarding the immigration issue are, "What should my opinion be?" and "What should we as the Church do about this issue?"
There is no official doctrine regarding this issue in The United Methodist Church, nor should there be. There are a few resolutions (118, 119, 265, 266, 302) in our Book of Resolutions which deal with the issue, though these will likely be amended and broadened at General Conference 2008. Additionally, while these reflect the official position of the Church, United Methodists are not bound to support these opinions; they are not doctrinal standards to which we must adhere.
The Bible contains numerous passages about showing mercy to the alien or "sojourner" in our midst. Certainly, the Church is bound by these admonitions. And, when laws are unjust, civil disobedience is a viable option and, at times, a responsibility; God's expectations trump any expectations from the State. Many Americans also make it relatively easy for illegal immigrants to enter the United States, by indiscriminately offering jobs and aid.
At the same time, there are legal means for people to enter the United States, and those who break the law should not be favored over those who are attempting to obey the law. That's entirely unjust.
So, here's where I am, with recognition that my position is prayerfully fluid and may change completely tomorrow...
* The Church is not an American institution; Christians are first and foremost disciples of Jesus Christ and citizens of his Kingdom, and only secondarily citizens of any secular state. Our ultimate allegiance belongs to Jesus, not to any worldly nation. If the demands of discipleship conflict with American interests, faith must come first.
* I believe the Church has the sacred right to offer sanctuary to anyone who asks for it, whether that person be an illegal immigrant, an accused child molester, an escaped murderer, or Osama Bin Laden. If nothing else, it gives us the opportunity to defuse a potentially explosive situation, seek justice as well as mercy, and provide a witness for Christ to all involved.
* The current debate has displayed ugly inferences of racism from every side; the Church needs to stand against racism and try to inspire language that does not drip of this venom.
* It's likely that immigration laws need to allow more immigrants entrance in a legal fashion and that their entry should be expedited, not caught up in "red tape" for great lengths of time.
* I'm not sure any border fence will work, and it's such an ugly symbol.
* American leaders should demand that Mexican leaders patrol their side of the border more diligently, and end practices in that nation which encourage illegal immigration. Additionally, companies which employ illegal immigrants in America should be severely penalized, perhaps to the point of being forced out of business. It seems to me that in many cases, these are the real criminals. If this temporarily hurts the American economy, so be it; there will be recovery, and probably a very quick recovery, as other companies move in to replace those damaged by illegal employment.
* Parents should not be separated from their children, as a general rule. On the other hand, any parent who knowingly commits a criminal act has already shown a willingness to endure separation, whether that crime is shoplifting, murder, or illegal immigration. It seems to me that Ms. Arellano made her decision some time ago. While I truly feel for her and her situation, and especially for her son, she knowingly and willingly committed a crime. Sadly, I'm not sure that Church officials - Bishops, pastors, and laity - did anything more than encourage her to do so. That's a bad witness on our part.
* We need to remember that most of us have roots in illegal immigration. many of our ancestors (such as those of my wife...and thus my children) came to the "new world" as explorers, colonists, and "pioneers", and were surely "illegal immigrants" in the eyes of native Americans. More importantly, Abraham journeyed from Mesopotamia to the "promised land", whether the inhabitants wanted him there or not; the Hebrews, after the exodus from Egypt, entered Palestine much to the chagrin of the Canaanites. If not for these "illegal immigrants", our faith history would be very different. And, lest we forget, God sanctioned and at times even commanded these actions.
Given this, the Church needs to find a way to welcome the alien, show mercy, and work for more open immigration policies in America while also strongly encouraging adherence to the law. Should a situation arise again such as the sad case of the Arellano family, we should find a way to offer sanctuary while doing all we can do to find a legal and just resolution. Perhaps those involved did their best, but my impression has been that they seemed tied more to political partisanship than to any sense of real resolution.
Every time someone on TV, the radio, or the Internet screams about immigration policy, whether on the Right or the Left, we should pray, pray, pray. And until we hear a definitive word from above regarding American immigration policy, we should probably err on the side of mercy and grace.