The Human Face of Immigration Reform

Because I’ve written a book about immigration, a lot of folks in my family, from my congregation, and among my friends have asked me to weigh in on Arizona’s recently-passed “get tough on immigrants” law. On several occasions I’ve tried to write down my reactions to Arizona’s law, but I’ve had little luck. I have so many thoughts on what has happened in Arizona that whenever I sit down to write about them, all the words get clogged somewhere between my brain and my fingers on the keyboard.

But I think I may have been saved by a video clip of Michelle Obama and an achingly-sweet second grader from Silver Spring, Maryland.
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Immigration Reform Part 2: Essential Elements for Moral, Comprehensive Reform

This is the second of two pieces I’ve written about immigration reform policy. The fist piece, which I posted on March 19, took a critical look at a proposal for immigration reform outlined by Charles Schumer and Lindsay Graham. This piece gives my ideas for what should be included in a moral comprehensive immigration reform.

On Friday, March 19, even as a year’s worth of debates around healthcare were coming to a close, two senators, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wrote a piece for The Washington Post in which they outlined a bi-partisan proposal for comprehensive immigration reform.

It was a mixed bag. I gave an analysis of their proposal in an earlier post, and, for the most part, I was critical of what the two senators set forth as a first step in the long journey toward comprehensive immigration reform. Such criticism is not particularly constructive, however, unless it is coupled with alternate ideas and suggestions for what actually will work; to that end I have identified five elements that I feel must be included in any morally responsible immigration reform bill.

These five elements come from the introduction to my forthcoming book Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration. (The book, by the way, will not be released until the middle of August, but, thanks to the foresight and quick work of the folks at Westminster John Knox Press, you can pre-order a copy at Amazon.com.) My book primarily is about people and not policy, but it seemed fair, at the beginning of the book, to say which elements I believe should be a part of immigration reform legislation. I came up with these elements after spending a lot of time studying the issues, visiting the U.S./Mexico border, and interviewing dozens people from many different walks of life. Here, then, are the elements I believe must be part of moral, comprehensive, immigration reform:
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Book Review: “The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible” by James K. Hoffmeier

This review also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum

The Book
I first heard about James K. Hoffmeier’s book The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible when a friend of mine, who knows my interest in issues surrounding immigration, emailed a brief review of the book that appeared in an April 30th edition of Publishers Weekly. I knew I had to read to book after the final sentences of the review made me laugh:

The book offers little in the way of sociological, political or economic insight into the circumstances surrounding modern-day illegal immigration, beyond advocating for a law-and-order approach. Missing from this analysis is an understanding of the Bible as a prophetic document more concerned with larger issues of justice. Still, Christians looking for a biblical justification for strict federal enforcement of immigration laws may find much to like.

First, let me say what I like about The Immigration Crisis. It’s short, easy to read, and intelligently written. While I remain steadfastly unconvinced by his arguments, Hoffmeier is a first-rate biblical scholar who has articulated a cogent challenge to the assumption that the God revealed in Jewish and Christian scriptures has a special place in the Divine Heart for immigrants, even if they cross international borders without proper documentation. Continue reading

Immigration and an Urban Garden

This column first was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Form on April 7, 2008. 

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…(Psalm 24:1)

On Saturday my kids and I planted some tomatoes in our garden.

Well, technically it wasn’t in our garden. We live in a townhouse with no back yard. Our garden is made out of planters on the patio, but this year I want to grow a lot of tomatoes, and I’ve had little luck growing tomatoes in planters. The plants have been healthy and the fruit good, but the yield has been low. In past years our garden’s tomatoes have been an occasional treat: once a week or so at the height of tomato season, I’ve been able to cut up one tomato at a time and serve it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil and pepper. This is nice, but I want to make salsa and spaghetti sauce. I want to put up cans of tomatoes for the winter. I may regret it come July, but this year I want to be invaded. I want to see heirlooms slowly fester on my counter until the fruit flies won’t leave us alone. In order to get this desired bumper crop my family had to emigrate a few feet, to cross a legal boundary, to sink our fingers into the earth on property that isn’t ours.

So this year I broke the law Continue reading

Tacos and the Politics of Immigration

On Thursday, January 17 a slightly shorter form of this column was broadcast as part of the Perspectives series on KQED FM, San Francisco’s NPR affiliate. On Monday, January 21 it was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum. An audio version of the KQED broadcast of this piece appears at the end of the text version, thanks to  my friend, JJ Chacon. Speaking of JJ check out the photos of a dream meal in Florence from on JJ’s website. Who’d like to join me for a meal like that?


In the coming weeks, as the primaries swing to the South and West, immigration will play a growing role in the drama of presidential politics. The candidates will be proposing immigration policies in an effort to capture the voters’ fancy, but before any of our would-be presidents has the opportunity actually to set immigration policy, I’d like for them to visit me in the barrio where I live in East San Jose. Continue reading

Guadalupe in the Winter Hood

This column ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on December 10, 2007.

In the late-afternoon sun, it’s just warm enough to enjoy a cup of tea on the back patio of my condominium in East San Jose. There are egrets fishing in the urban creek that runs behind my home. One last tomato is trying to turn red in what remains of my garden. The air is clear. The Christmas lights have been hung, and the tree will go up tonight. There is a quiet lull and this is a winter wonderland of sorts. Here there are no sleigh bells ringing—the nearest snow is hundreds of miles away on the Sierra Nevada—but the beauty of winter has many faces and this is one of them.

In a few days’ time this quiet will be replaced by the joyful noise of pilgrims from all over Northern California, who will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Roman Catholic church across the street; the church is named in honor of Mexico’s patron saint Continue reading

Singing “Amazing Grace” in English

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on April 23, 2007.

I used to speak Spanish.

In high school I was an exchange student in the Dominican Republic, where I learned to dance merengue, drink rum, and talk baseball with an Antillean accent. In college I worked with Salvadoran refugees in San Francisco’s Mission District and I read un-translated Latin American poetry for fun. As a clergyman, I helped to draft the bilingual rules of cooperation between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.

But today the language of Sammy Sosa and Sor Juana Ynez de la Cruz doesn’t come as easily to me as once it did. Continue reading

Cry, the Beloved Border

This column appeared on the UPI Religion and Spirituality website on October 23, 2006

Last week I came across an email addressed to “minutemen and supporters,” that appeared to have been written by the director of Arizona Border Watch, an organization affiliated with the California-based Minuteman Project, whose motto is “Americans doing the jobs that Congress won’t do: ‘operating within the law to support enforcement of the law.’”

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