Tuesday 14 March 2006

H.R. 4437: The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005

I imagine some form of this dastardly bill is likely to pass, but if it passes intact as it is written now, this country will see a massive revival of civil disobedience among church leaders and other persons of conscience across this land - the likes of which we won't have seen since the height of the Civil Rights Movment and its leadership under MLK, Jr.

The battle is just heating up on this in the US Senate -- it's still in committee -- though it certainly moved swiftly through the House of Representatives in December of '05 (a 92% approval vote by the Repubs, with a 82% opposition vote by the Dems.) Lots of consciousness-raising remains to get done yet! Here's where to go to keep track of what is happening to this bill as it moves through the legislative process: http://tinyurl.com/f24el

I sent off the following on March 9 as a letter to the editors of the Elkhart Truth and Goshen News. The GN printed it in its entirety today, March 13, in its main editorial column. They gave it a heading that went something like this: "Reader Urges Churches To Start Bail Bond Funds!"


If you attend a local church, you might do well to encourage your congregation to set up its own bail bond fund soon -- especially if this HR 4437 immigration "reform" bill currently under debate gets passed by the U.S. Senate and becomes the law of the land. (It's already quickly slipped through the U.S. House of Representatives in December.)

There will, no doubt, be no small number of pastors, other church workers, school teachers and administrators, social service personnel, Christian health clinic doctors and volunteers, hospital personnel, missions project adminstrators, and so on -- not only in the southwestern part of this country but especially right here in Elkhart County -- who may very well need to access such funds because of personal conscience and moral conviction. Many will be forced to make a choice between obeying the laws of God or an immoral law of humankind if this very bad bill becomes law.

Ask yourself, would you support your pastor if he or she undergoes prosecution over moral and scripturally-based conviction? But why not put some energy into preventing such a scenario in the first place? First, let's get a grip on the issues:

If passed, HR 4437 is likely to drive undocumented immigrants further underground and increase their vulnerability to exploitation by broadening the definition of alien smuggling to include family members, employers, friends, fellow church-goers, school teachers, and current immigrant advocates Under the proposals it redefines practically ANYONE who knowingly "assists, encourages or directs" someone residing in the U.S. illegally as being guilty of the federal crime of "alien smuggling" and subject to up to five years in prison!

Among other things, the bill would obligate such organizations and citizens to become enforcers of immigration law -- to ask immigrants for legal documentation before providing any assistance whatsoever and to help report them if they don't have it. Can you imagine this? Some of the best legal minds in this country are saying that m any of the provisions of HR 4437 amount to a basic assault on civil liberties, ignore fundamental legal principles and the constitutional guarantees of due process which have been in place since the founding of this great nation. By the way, t his proposed bill will also make way for a 700-mile border fence to be built between the U.S. and México.

A number of Catholic bishops have been publicly and courageously denouncing the bill. But Cardinal Roger Mahony, the leader of our nation's largest archdiocese, has now gone further and promised to openly defy the bill if it becomes law: "I would say to all priests, deacons and members of the church that we are not going to observe this law," Mahony said after a mass last week. He called on Catholics to "make room" for immigrants. Senators Lugar, and Bayh -- are you getting this?

Bishop Arthur Tafoya has also said that Roman Catholics must stand on the side of justice and equality for all: "As Catholic Christians, we are followers of Jesus Christ and we must follow the laws of love and charity, and stand on the side of justice and equality for all. The laws of the gospel always exceed the laws of the land," said Tafoya.

Well, it's not just the Catholics who feel strongly about this -- we all should. Wake up, America! Do a few minutes worth of research with a computer at places like www.ilrc.org/HR4437.html
(If you are in Indiana) communicate with Senator Bayh and Senator Lugar now about what you foresee if this bill passes in its current form. It's far better to get vocal and put energy into crafting good sensible policy that to be silent and then be forced to deal with the inevitable -- increased social disruption and widespread civil (and criminal) disobedience foisted by knee-jerk bad policy.

Let's face it folks, and get practical - if all the undocumented workers in Elkhart County left tomorrow massive sectors of our local economy would likely come to a screeching halt. There are better ways to help these people among us (most of them very hard working, industrious folk) to become legal! Good people are working on these issues. If you want to learn more about how to become part of the solution rather than the problem, community dialogue groups are meeting in Goshen and elsewhere.

Clair Hochstetler

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