Statement on Local Immigration Enforcement

Adopted by the Executive Board of the NC Council of Churches, December 2, 2008

In the wake of failed attempts by Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, states and localities have increased their own efforts to enforce current immigration laws and, in some cases, to implement new programs designed to reduce immigration.  In North Carolina, these recent efforts have created a more hostile environment toward immigrants.  Many immigrants – both documented and undocumented – today live in fear of arrest and possible deportation.  Even though recent studies have shown that crime rates among immigrants are significantly lower than those among U.S. citizens, enforcement-only anti-immigrant measures are increasing across the state.  These steps continue to generate fear within immigrant communities and hostility towards immigrants in non-immigrant communities.

The North Carolina Council of Churches continues to deplore “any governmental action which unduly emphasizes enforcement as the primary response to immigrants entering this country or which criminalizes persons providing humanitarian assistance to migrants. In addition, we encourage the state and local governments of North Carolina to provide for fair treatment and protection of our state’s immigrant population. We call on our member judicatories and congregations to stand with immigrants as a matter of Christian responsibility, to advocate for their well-being and protection, and to educate our members about issues affecting immigrant peoples” (quoted from our 2006 statement entitled, “Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform”).

Theological Background

As Christians, we believe that all people are created in the image of God. The view that all human beings are created in God’s image necessarily entails a special concern for those whom society would render most vulnerable, including immigrants.  Much of the Hebrew Bible, for example, is concerned with protecting the most vulnerable against abuse by those with power.  These protections included the establishment of cities of refuge and gleaning provisions for the hungry, as well as specific commands to treat immigrants with respect and love.

Furthermore, Jesus and early Christians continued the tradition of protecting the most vulnerable in society.  Jesus touched lepers, welcomed children, embraced outcasts, and denied a bloodthirsty mob of its brand of “justice” against an accused adulteress.  Christian tradition is clear that any abuse of power, including intimidation or unfairness towards the vulnerable, will not stand in the eyes of God and must not be ignored or tolerated by God’s people.

Just as our tradition insists on the special care for and protection of the marginalized, it too highlights the need for both just laws and just measures of enforcement.  There is a need for order in human societies to uphold the common good and to ensure that those with few resources are not abused by those with power.  In theological language, the reality of human sin requires some degree of law enforcement for the sake of society’s common interest and order.  Thus, in both Testaments we find affirmation of social institutions – including various forms of law enforcement – that serve the common good.  Of course, we recognize that our tradition has always wrestled with the proper role of the state, human systems of justice and particular law enforcement tactics.  This process of communal discernment about such matters continues to take place, and the conversation takes on many different forms depending upon the societal context.

To be sure, Christian tradition affirms that police and other institutions of justice have a vital role to play in our society, especially when they act in good faith to serve the common good and to protect the vulnerable against abuse.  As North Carolinians, we are indeed deeply thankful for the policewomen and men who serve our communities, protecting individuals and society from criminal behavior.  However, to the degree that particular law enforcement tactics tend to prey on those with less power in general and immigrant communities in particular, we are compelled to speak as people of conscience and faith.

We call on the Department of Homeland Security to suspend home and workplace immigration raids.

As Christians, we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian costs associated with these raids, as workers lose their livelihood, family members are forcibly separated, and children are left behind.  Raids continue to cause great human suffering as immigrants are forced further into society’s shadows.  Enforcement efforts that target hardworking families remain misguided.  All sides of the political spectrum agree that the current immigration system is essentially broken, and we continue to call on federal officials to support comprehensive immigration reform (see our 2006 statement entitled, “Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform”).  Here, we join our voice with that of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious leaders who have called for a suspension of home and workplace immigration raids.

We call on North Carolina’s local law enforcement entities, including sheriff’s departments, police departments and county commissioners, to stop implementing the 287(g) program.  In addition, law enforcement checkpoints and other practices should not unduly target immigrant neighborhoods or places of worship.

The 287(g) program, which is currently in effect in eight counties in North Carolina, basically deputizes local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration law.  This program is deeply flawed for at least three reasons.  First, it severs the bond of trust that is necessary for law enforcement to serve and protect immigrant communities.  Immigrant communities (both documented and undocumented) have become hesitant to report crimes to the police because they fear that they will be deported. This fear applies to both crime victims and witnesses.  Second, the implementation of 287(g) has been done with very little oversight.  It has been difficult for immigrant rights advocates to determine exactly who is in charge, how funds have been spent, and whether the program is targeting law-abiding immigrants.  Finally, we are concerned about the potential for racial profiling.  While officials publicly state that they are only going after gang members and hardened criminals with 287(g), this is simply not true. The reality on the ground is that many – in some cases a majority – of the people being processed through 287(g) are being stopped for misdemeanors and minor (non-DUI) traffic violations.  Overall, we find that 287(g) and other enforcement actions which target immigrants only heighten the vulnerability of immigrant communities.

We demand that all of our leaders reject all forms of stereotyping and scapegoating immigrants and the use of dehumanizing and offensive language.

Elected officials at the local, state and national level have a moral responsibility to elevate the public debate on contentious issues such as immigration.  We recognize that people of goodwill have different opinions about the best direction for immigration policy.  At the same time, our commitment to the dignity of all people demands that we treat all immigrants with respect and reject all forms of racial and ethnic prejudice.  We will not tolerate mean-spirited or misguided attacks on immigrants.

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