Memory is short. It definitely needs to get a little longer.
In a time of economic recession, it’s easy to get a little scared, a little angry. It’s human. We don’t know what’s coming around the corner, and we feel unsafe. And when we feel unsafe, we often lash out.
In the 1930s, Germany was in deep economic recession. After World War I, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles ground the German economy to a halt, and the cost of food and basic goods skyrocketed. It was in a time like this that Hitler could rise to power. And he found an easy scapegoat for all their problems: the Jews. The Third Reich made them wear yellow stars of David. If they forgot to wear them, they were often beaten and killed. If they wore them, then they were tormented and scorned. They could be punished if it was a couple centimeters to the left, or if it was safety-pinned instead of being sewed on. It was humiliating. When those yellow stars came on, it was a world separated by the Jewish and the non-Jewish. And they didn’t quench the anger: six million were decimated by the time the war was over.
In America, we’re also in a time of economic recession. It’s easy to be a little scared, a little angry. It’s easy to lash out. And right now, we’re on the doorstep of repeating a disastrous history — of persecuting an ethnic community. We won’t do it across the Atlantic. We’ll do it right in our front yard, in one of the hardest places hit by the collapse of the housing market — Arizona.
Arizona just passed the nation’s toughest immigration law, signed in by Gov. Brewer. By August, it will be a crime if you forget your immigration papers. If you forget them, you can be arrested. Even if the police merely suspect you’re in the country illegally, they can detain you. The police aren’t going to stop men of Irish ancestry or women of Swedish ancestry. They’re targeting a particular people. And forcing them not to leave their badges — I mean, their papers — at home. This is an open invitation to the widespread harassment of the Latino community — even if they are American citizens. This action won’t bring back the housing market, and — I assure you — it won’t quench the anger either.
We’ve done it before. We interned the Japanese during World War II. Hate crimes occurred against Middle Eastern Americans — and South Asians as well, just because they look similar — after 9/11. When we feel unsafe, we lash out at people groups less powerful than ourselves. That’s unjust, and thus, deeply sinful.
God warns us here repeatedly in the Christian Scriptures: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner.” And, “You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.” Jesus himself said that the entire Jewish Scriptures could be summed up by two commands: love God, and love your neighbor. And for him, that neighbor wasn’t born on native soil.
The Arizona legislation is not the solution, but will only add to the problems. This isn’t an issue about political parties anymore. It doesn’t matter if you’re Right or Left, Red or Blue. It’s about people. The worth of human beings. And it’s also deeply spiritual: it’s about the soul of this country. And everyone’s in it.
Remember, we’ve done this before. Pray that it doesn’t happen again.