The Nation's Pulse

Do Immigration Concerns Equal Racism?

They sure do, according to the National Council of Churches.

By 10.7.08

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At its September board meeting, the National Council of Churches approved a resolution essentially supporting virtually open borders for the U.S, ascribing support for border control to "fear" and racism.

"We acknowledge the ease with which we as human beings are prone to fear people who we consider 'other,' yet our faith challenges us to overcome such natural fear of those who are not like us," the NCC intoned. It recalled America's struggle to overcome "racial, ethnic, gender and religious discrimination." And it expressed distress that America may currently succumb to "fear, xenophobia, and racist impulses directed against new immigrants."

The high-minded, largely Mainline Protestant WASP's who run the NCC no doubt were pleased with themselves for having spoken so bravely. But after 40 years of continuous decline in both church membership and intellectual seriousness, the NCC has mostly lost its ability to construct a thoughtful social witness for its over 30 member denominations. Maybe there are intelligent and Christian reasons for the United States automatically to offer all the benefits of citizenship to anyone in the world who can cross the border. But labeling critics of such a revolutionary plan as bigots hardly qualifies as persuasive.

A MORE EXPLICIT allegation of racism aimed at opponents of open borders came from an official of the United Methodist lobby office on Capitol Hill last month. "As we approach the 2008 election, I expect anti-immigrant voices will grow louder trying to demonize undocumented aliens as scapegoats for all that ails the United States," decried Bill Mefford, Director of Civil and Human Rights for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. "Demonization of another ethnic group is not a new form of bigotry, of course. The voices that rant and rave about undocumented aliens sound remarkably similar to those that ranted and raved against desegregation during the civil rights period."

Evidently lacking more compelling arguments, Mefford likened quotes from Klansmen and segregationists of past decades to ostensibly similar sentiments from today's critics of open borders. "Both groups seek social control by demonizing another race through incendiary rhetoric," he observed, professing that "blatant bigotry" is "rooted firmly in North America," rearing its "ugly head with little provocation, much like a weed in a garden unless you remove its root." By exposing them, Mefford hopes to "silence these voices of bigotry."

Mefford quoted segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace in denouncing the "forced integration of individuals," and likened him to Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who remarked about immigration control: "We have to remember that this is a clash of civilizations. No, this is a clash for civilization." More sinisterly, a 1960s era Klansman is quoted as promoting the "strict preservation of the races, and the control of the social structure in the hands of the Christian, Anglo-Saxon, white men, the only race on earth that can build and maintain just and stable governments." The Klan blurb is likened to Fox host Bill O'Reilly saying that open borders advocates "hate America, and they hate it because it's run primarily by white, Christian men," with O'Reilly alleging racism both on the "anti-Latino front, and you have racism on the anti-Christian, white male front."

A 1960s era White Citizens Council honcho is quoted as boasting that he is the "product of my heredity and education and the society in which I was raised. And I have a vested interest in that society, and I along with a million other white Mississippians will do everything in our power to protect that vested interest." And he is likened to Colorado Congressman Douglas Bruce saying, "I don't think we need 5,000 more illiterate peasants in Colorado," when arguing against temporary visas for immigrant workers.

MEFFORD LACED HIS comparative quotations with Scriptures that declare God's universal love for all people. The NCC likened immigrants to biblical "sojourners" and "pilgrims." Enshrouding all immigrants with mystical reverence is a nice touch for the politicized NCC, which does not often emphasize the transcendent. In fact, immigrants are mostly just regular people, not sanctified saints, and they primarily are seeking to improve their economic status, with which all humans can sympathize. For Christians, there are really no definitive Scriptures that directly outline the proper border policies for nation states.

Unlike Mefford, the NCC at least tersely acknowledged: "We recognize that government may have legitimate, morally justifiable reasons for denying immigration to certain persons." Perhaps Mefford would liken the NCC to Bull Connor for this brief assertion. In its seven page resolution, the NCC did not elaborate as to what immigration restrictions might be morally acceptable. Instead, it preferred to slam skeptics of open borders as "anti-immigrants" and xenophobes, animated by "prejudice" that poses an "existential threat" to the nation.

Morally serious church prelates would avoid such snide generalizations about motivations. Instead, they would deploy the tools of Christian tradition to weigh the potential benefits of mass immigration with the obligations of nation states to safeguard their borders for the protection of all. Neither the NCC nor the United Methodist lobby office seem interested in that kind of reasoned argument.

Mark Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.