August 21, 2014 10:34:30 AM
Dr. Jonathan Speegle, pastor at Covenant United Methodist Church in Columbus, spoke to the Columbus Kiwanis Club Wednesday. His topic: Comprehensive immigration reform.
Given his position, it was hardly unexpected that Speegle would consider this issue in theological terms.
That alone would have provided plenty of room for thought. Yet Speegle, a former college professor, looked at the issue from a number of secular aspects as well, examining immigration from a historical and practical point of view.
His was a calm, well-reasoned argument for immigration reform that is consistent with people of faith while addressing the costs and benefits that such reform would entail.
"What I hope to do in the time we have is to present a new paradigm for thinking about this subject," he said.
He began with the current state of immigration, pointing out that there are 38 million people in the U.S. (12.5 percent of the population) who are immigrants. Of those, 11 million are undocumented "illegals." Half of those will ultimately become U.S. citizens, he said.
"Homeland Security has built 651 miles of border fences for a border that exceeds 2,000 miles," he noted. "Of that portion that is fenced, there are 4,000 repairs to those fences each year."
The total cost for border security, Speegle said, is estimated at $4 billion annually, but Speegle cited a Bloomberg study that estimated it would cost $28 billion to fully secure the border.
Meanwhile, smuggling people over the border is estimated to be a $6.6 billion industry for Mexican gangs.
As border security has tightened, more and more people are using these gangs to cross the border at costs that range from $3,000 to $30,000.
Why do so many cross the border? Economic factors - the availability of jobs that few Americans want to pursue - are one obvious reason. Essentially, most of the undocumented people in the U.S. can be described as economic refugees.
But the explanation goes deeper than that, Speegle suggests.
"For two million years, we existed only as bands of migratory people," he said. "Only until about 8,000 years ago, with the rise of agriculture, did people settle in one place...It is an unrealistic expectation to draw a line on a map and expect migration to stop."
Speegle noted that historical context applied to the history of the U.S. as well.
"We must remember that Spanish American peoples have populated what is now the U.S. for 400 of the last 500 years," he noted. "In 1848, with the end of the Mexican-American War, most of the states of the west were annexed into the U.S. By that standard, most of the people of Mexican ancestry in the United States today are products not of immigration, but annexation."
As for theology, Speegle cited numerous references in both the Old and New Testaments that spoke of treating aliens with kindness and acceptance.
"As Christians, we have more in common with the undocumented Christians here than we do with the non-Christians among us," he said.
Given the enormous cost of border security and its dubious probability for success, Speegle noted suggested another practical solution.
"Think of it this way. There was a time when moving money and products across the border were illegal, too," he said. "What happened? We passed NAFTA. Now, goods and services and products can move freely across the borders.
"My question: If we can do that with products and money, why can't we do it for people?
The majority of the undocumented people we see today come here to work seasonal jobs and want to return home to their families. But under the current system, those who come across the border are, in a sense, trapped here."
Speegle argued that if we could create reform that would allow for people to move back and forth across the border, we would be able to give them human rights, collect taxes and diminish the predatory effect of Mexican gangs who make billions of dollars in human trafficking. That kind of approach should have wide appeal, not only from a religious standpoint but from a economic standpoint as well.
Whether you accept Speegle's argument or not, one thing that no one can dispute is that the current state of immigration is satisfying to no one, regardless of that person's political convictions.
We applaud Speegle's thoughtful approach to this subject and welcome other ideas, too. It is the only way to move beyond rhetoric and politics to find a real solution.