It’s pretty bad when a basketball team gets involved. The situation out there is bleak. We can’t seem to agree on anything anymore. Now, even the NBA is taking a stand on the immigration issue, an issue that appears to be at the very heart of what it means to be an American.
The NBA’s Phoenix Suns decided to make a political statement by wearing their Latino uniforms in Game 2 of their recent playoff run. According to this ESPN story, Suns owner Robert Sarver has been vocal in his opposition to Arizona’s new immigration law which requires immigrants to carry proof of residency with them at all times and provide said proof to officers upon request. Protests and proposed boycotts abound now in the wake of the legislation, affecting everyone from sports teams to tea makers. Sarver laments the manner in which politicians are pandering to public fear.
We would assume the politicians in Sarver’s critique include Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona who signed the legislation into law. According to Brewer, public fears are not unfounded, considering—among other things—Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the Americas (not exactly how you want your premier city to be recognized). To hear Brewer’s point of view, the government’s actual job is to protect its citizens. Indeed, from Brewer’s perspective, the failure of the government to do its job is the reason the state government had to act. The citizens of Arizona are under assault (economic and otherwise).
Not only is the immigration issue at the heart of American ideology, but this debate between two notable Arizonans is at the heart of the immigration debate. As it turns out, both sides expect politicians to pander. On the one side, politicians are expected to pander to public fear and act on behalf of Americans who are afraid of losing their land, income, and security to drug cartels and excessive economic burdens. On the other side are those who expect politicians to pander to postmodern political maneuvering which demands a total disregard for established immigration law. What do I mean?
Consider the outcry from Sarver and others concerning the new immigration law. The expressed outrage is a response to the supposedly suspect provision of the new law which demands proof of citizenship upon request. The undetected irony of their outrage is displayed in the reality that federal law since FDR has demanded the very same practice (See Steyn’s comments here). The handbook of the USCIS plainly states that immigrants 18 and older must keep proof of residency in their possession at all times and provide said identification to officers upon request. The Arizona law simply codifies at the state level what is already supposed to be practiced at the federal level. As Governor Brewer points out, the situation in Arizona is a direct consequence of the failure of the federal government to enforce longstanding laws. Arizona is only attempting something new in the sense that enforcing the law is apparently a new concept.
What is truly at the heart of the Arizona immigration debate is the status of the rule of law in the U.S. The outcry from Arizona makes plain that the rule of law is no longer the noble stalwart of security that it once was. I am very concerned about the significance of our departure from the rule of law. Even evangelicals have gone soft on maintaining the rule of law, as is clear from this letter jointly produced by white and brown evangelicals.
I would point out to everyone interested in the debate that treating sojourners among us in a humane way is not antithetical to maintaining laws on immigration. Nations must be allowed the right to define citizenship and the right to protect borders. Defining citizenship and enforcing borders are two of the more legitimate functions of government (as opposed, say, to providing healthcare and funding education). Evangelicals (regardless of whether they are red or yellow, black or white, or brown) must—if they wish to be faithful to the Scriptures—they must respect the right of government to maintain the rule of law.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2, ESV). When evangelicals join the conversation with governors and NBA owners, they must provide a more thorough outlook than simply what feels like a Good Samaritan approach.
How good are we being to a sojourner among us is one question, but it is a decidedly different question than what message are we to send to illegal immigrants. No man or woman (whether brown or white) is above the law. Don’t we agree at least a little bit with the concept of Lex Rex? Isn’t the law a king over us all? Then why must we insist that we are all under the law, unless the law concerns immigration?
Immigration law is legitimate and must be honored above all by those who call themselves Christian. Of course, all Americans should abide by the laws of the nation. Christians have the extra responsibility of honoring Romans 13:1-2. Those advocating an abrogation of the rule of law are the ones pandering in this debate. They are pandering to political expediency to the demise of public identity and security under the rule of law.