Arizona and the Third Reich?

Update (August 27, 2010): Before you read, allow me to make two things clear from the beginning. First, this post is directed against the Arizona bill SB 1070 for its racial profiling of American citizens of Latino descent, particularly those who were born in this country. It is not directed toward immigration issues in general, nor does it discuss the legality of undocumented people in particular. It’s saddening that given our current polemical culture, many don’t try to distinguish between these issues. And it’s downright disheartening that we Christians often seem to be adding to the boiling pot of anger, instead of exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit. The world has enough anger of its own. It doesn’t need us adding to it.

Secondly, I understand that the comparison to Nazi Germany has been often abused in politics and in the media these days, but I think it still makes sense here. Of course, it isn’t nearly as extreme in Arizona, yet the same underlying principle — of creating laws that persecute a particular ethnic group — remains the same, and still leads to the disastrous consequences of injustice and oppression. My buddy tells me that when his rabbi friend heard of the Arizona law, he said, “Should I just start wearing my yellow star?”

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.

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  1. Hi James.

    I like this article. I didn’t read all the posts, but I agree that this legislation legalizes racial profiling and is, therefore, a huge problem for civil rights – basically, for Latinos.

    Thanks for taking the heat!



  2. Hi James,

    We’ve only met once briefly at Urbana 06, but that was before I actually knew who you were. We have many many mutual friends both in Boston (CCFC) and SoCal (LA & SD).

    I came across your website while looking for resources for the big story training. I decided to read this post and all the comments, because this summer I participated in the Global Urban Trek to Mexico City.

    During my time there, I lived with a host family who’s father was in the U.S. Also, the neighborhood we lived in was void of fathers, because many of them were also in the U.S. I haven’t entirely formulated my thoughts on this legislation, after really spending time with people who are directly affected by it.

    But what I would like to draw attention to is how we have de-humanized immigrants by calling them “illegals”. These labels in themselves seem to take away their humanity. These “illegals” are fathers, brothers, mothers and children. Sure, they may not be entering into the country by the rules we have established. But they are still God’s people.

    So if they are risking their lives, facing prejudice, and a difficult isolated life away from their loved ones, why are they still trying to come here repeatedly? I’d encourage people to explore that question.

    I think many people are not looking broad enough and focusing only on the local implications of this legislation. There’s so much more complexity to it than any of us can really understand fully. But this is more than just a U.S.-border issue.

    Regarding a previous comment by someone: “Why can’t we ride in the back of trucks in California, or talk on the phone while driving? just because a few people crashed while doing these things, it now means that no one can. Why can’t we take full sized bottles of shampoo on airplanes?”

    It’s one thing to set rules that affect everyone