Chris Liu-Beers, Eastern Wake News
RALEIGH – As people of faith, we are greatly disturbed by reports of local law enforcement targeting Spanish-language church services in their misguided hunt for undocumented immigrants in Zebulon. All people – regardless of their immigration status – have the right to worship free from harassment and unconstitutional checkpoints. Just because someone doesn’t have the right papers for the U.S. government does not make him or her any less a child of God. It’s shameful that a country so proud of its religious freedom would unfairly target church-going members of the community.
Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Imagine the outrage and front-page headlines if police officers interrupted Sunday services at prominent white churches looking for people who cheated on their taxes or were late on their child support. Do we really want to be a society where you have to show proper documentation before being allowed to attend church?
The N.C. Council of Churches has always affirmed 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.
In fact, these kinds of rogue tactics are not only immoral, they also threaten public safety. When police target churches to enforce federal immigration law, it severs the bond of trust that is necessary for law enforcement to serve and protect immigrant communities. Across North Carolina, immigrants (both documented and undocumented) are becoming increasingly hesitant to report crimes to the police because they fear that they will be deported. This fear applies to both crime victims and witnesses. Again, we have to ask ourselves: do we really want to live in a society where our neighbors won’t call the police when they see our houses being robbed?
Rebecca Fontaine of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice reminds us that “Using local police officers for immigration enforcement erodes public trust in law enforcement, systematizes racial profiling, creates incentives for illegal arrests and prevents police from doing their job, failing to keep some of our most vulnerable communities safe.”
We believe that the rule of law is important. “Many people think we have good [immigration] laws and bad people who are breaking them,” says Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration reform advocacy group. “But we have bad laws and mostly good people who have no line to get into legally.”
Until Washington has the courage to take action, we’ll probably see more local dollars misallocated to round up church-goers. In the meantime, people of faith across North Carolina are joining together to demand that immigrants be treated with dignity and respect – as children of God.