Christians, Elvira Arellano, and Sanctuary

Posted: Aug 26, 2007 12:00 AM
Christians, Elvira Arellano, and Sanctuary

“Hector in Los Angeles, welcome to ‘The Frank Pastore Show. ’”

His voice cracked as he came on the line. Nerves. You could tell he probably had never called a radio show before.

“Frank, you just don’t understand … I’m a pastor … and almost all my congregation are undocumented workers. They’re good people. They work hard. They love the Lord, and they love their families … How can you want to break up those families by deporting the parents? That’s just wrong!”

Hector had the confidence that comes with years of working with real people in the real world with real problems. He doesn’t live in the realm of pundits, professors and politicians. He was the pastor of a lower-income Latino church in one of the barrios of East L. A.

“Lindsay in San Dimas, welcome to ‘The Frank Pastore Show.’”

Her voice was youthful, lively, self-assured. Right from the start, I could tell she was ready to engage. I had her pegged. Young. Smart. College educated. Latina. Verbal. Maybe a communications major that loved her poli-sci class. As she laid out her argument, I added, a young woman who definitely listens to far more talk radio than the music stations.

“Frank, I’m a Christian just like you are. And you’ve said it yourself: if there’s a conflict between God’s law and man’s law, the Christian has got to be obedient to God’s law. This is like slavery and the Underground Railroad, Frank. Slavery was legal but wrong. Our immigration laws are legal but wrong. The immigration system is broken. It doesn’t let enough legal people in to fill the jobs we have, which is why the illegals are here. Our economy can handle it, we’ve got less than a 5 percent unemployment rate.”

She paused to reload and continued, “I’ve heard you say that if you grew up in Mexico, you’d break the law to come here too. And, one more thing, churches should provide sanctuary for families that are going to be broken up because of deportation. Where else are these people gonna go? What would you do, Frank? Turn them away? Tell them God’s House is closed to them? You always say, ‘the moral trumps the legal.’ Well, how ’bout this case. Hmmm?”

Hector and Lindsay, like millions of us, are frustrated with the illegal immigration mess. Mad at our government for not doing anything for so long. And now, feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place as we try to wrestle with where to go from here.

But in our discussion, I found we agreed on some basic things. Neither of them were in favor of open borders or unconditional amnesty. Both agreed with me that national security demands a secure border. And, both agreed that some deportations were justified—as in the case of the 600,000 illegal fugitives evading standing deportation orders who need to be found and sent home ASAP.

This is good news. It could be the foundation upon which we build a national consensus to pass laws that start actually fixing the problems instead of just talking about them.

I’m encouraged.

However, I wasn’t able to bring them around to my way of thinking on some other things. We didn’t agree that:

1) Deportation doesn’t have to break up families, children can always go home with the parent(s). If advocates demand that citizen children have the right to have both parents stay in this country with them, then the solution is to end the whole “anchor baby” interpretation of the 14th Amendment. Or,

2) That the slavery analogy doesn’t work. Slaves were brought here against their will, treated like animals, and were rightfully given sanctuary because they were fleeing for their lives. Illegals come here voluntarily, are paid a wage they willingly accept, and are wrongfully given sanctuary because they are here primarily for economic not moral reasons. Or,

3) That “sanctuary” is all about awaiting a fair trial, not amnesty. The concept dates back to the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 35, where Moses was instructed to set up cities of refuge wherein men could await getting a fair trial before the congregation. This was to ensure that the punishment—death—fit the crime—murder. This was to avoid condemning a man to death for murder when he had only committed manslaughter.

The operative point here is that for churches to be truly biblical in their approach to sanctuary, the illegals must be awaiting a deportation trial—if a court has already issued a deportation order, then the church needs to comply with the ruling of that court and “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”

Thus, what Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago gave to Elvira Arellano and her son Saul for a whole year was not really “a sanctuary” but more accurately “a hideout.”

Yet, with all the heated rhetoric in the immigration debate, I found comfort and hope in the fact that there is common ground on which I could agree with listeners like Hector and Lindsay.

Let’s begin with that common ground and secure the borders and deport criminal fugitives. Then, inevitably, the debate will rage on.

But, in the short run, we’ll be a safer place where the rule of law is elevated and a couple of steps will have been made in the right direction.