My Testimony to the
Indiana Interim Study Committee
on Immigration Issues
(Tuesday, October 7, 2008)
Following is an abridged text of my testimony to the Indiana Interim Study Committee on Immigration Issues regarding the effect of immigration policy on religious communities. Three other representatives also gave their testimonies. I sensed a sincere desire by the Committee members to learn about this matter. Their questions were insightful, and they seemed appreciative of our involvement in this way. Please join me in praying for the members of this Committee, that God will guide them as they seek an appropriate response to the immigration situation in our state.
First, I want to begin by thanking you for this opportunity to give my testimony regarding the effects of immigration policy on religious communities. I am a Hoosier and have lived in Lafayette, Marion, and Indianapolis for all but fifteen years of my life. During twelve of those years away, my wife and I lived in Latin America—in Costa Rica, Peru, and Puerto Rico. Currently we attend a Hispanic church in the greater Indianapolis area where we were among the founding members eight years ago. So I come to you as a Hoosier and also as a person of faith.
Second, I want you to know that I share similar concerns with most of you regarding the immigration problem. So I’m grateful for this study committee and for your serious and responsible approach to your assignment. You are demonstrating your awareness of the complexities of this situation, as you explore the possible human impact of our state’s immigration policy.
Third, based upon my years of acquaintances with Hispanics here in Indiana, I want to emphasize the following realities:
That the vast majority of undocumented immigrants do not fit the stereotype of “illegals” that is often portrayed in the press and media, that is of recently arrived single men idly standing around on downtown street corners.
Instead, most of the undocumented people that I know have been here in Indiana for five, six, eight or ten years or more, they have stable marriages and children, and the majority work hard in the jobs they find and are appreciated for the quality of their work and their dependability.
The primary reason they came to the states is to find a better life for themselves and their children. They were encouraged by the success of previous immigrants who gained citizenship through the amnesty program in the mid-1980s. Those I know did not come in the back of a crowded truck. Instead, they came to Indiana one by one much like you or I would move from one state to another in search of a better job. Many entered our country with tourist or student visas or temporary work permits and now, years later, have practically cut all ties with their homeland. Today they are striving to make a new life for themselves and their families here and are doing their best to live in a responsible way—working hard, paying taxes and buying homes.
Fourth, we all know that the immigration system is broken, and for years our nation has been ambivalent regarding how to react to these immigrants. Meanwhile, many of us have benefitted from their presence among us. They’ve helped to harvest our crops, build our homes, care for our lawns, serve us in restaurants, and work in our banks and increasingly throughout our manufacturing and business sector. The ambivalent way that our nation and state has reacted for so many years to these immigrants living among us could be compared to a common law marriage to which we have given tacit approval. Now, because we have not reacted otherwise in a timely manner, there are thousands of children to take into account.
Fifth, the more recent push at the state level to address this immigration problem has made life increasingly difficult for these longtime, hardworking and otherwise responsible Hispanics and their families in our state. Here I am referring to actions like the no-match letters that resulted earlier this year in the suspension of reportedly 50,000 to 55,000 driver’s licenses. Previously they were able to hold licenses based upon less stringent documentation requirements, even while their cases languished in the Immigration and Naturalization Office. Now their licenses have been suspended because they have not yet received a social security number. For many that I know, returning to their home country with their families is not a viable option. Consequently, they have few choices other than to drive without a license in order to provide for their families.
The legislation proposed during the last session to penalize the employers of undocumented workers was also designed to squeeze these immigrant residents. Twenty years ago, these kinds of punitive measures alone may have been more appropriate. But not today given the history and complexities of the current situation and the thousands of people that would now be adversely affected.
To wrap up my comments, I want to call our attention to three basic principles that I believe are relevant to the immigration situation:
1. That all people are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is noteworthy that this statement by our founding fathers made no distinction between those who are documented and those who arrive here with nothing in their hands. Nor does the poem at the Statue of Liberty by Emma Lazarus make such a distinction.
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
This principle regarding certain unalienable rights for all who come to live among us is core to who we are as a people and a nation. So also is a second important principle.
2. That as residents and citizens of this nation and as moral persons, we ought to respect and submit to the laws of the land, except when they are in contradiction to higher principles.
This second principle is crucial, and its caveat is vital to a government of, by and for the people. The laws of the land must be obeyed and upheld, but they should not be allowed to trump other higher principles of human life and morality. There are times when we are called as persons with a moral compass to call into question the laws of the land, even though by doing so we as residents and citizens may risk being punished ourselves.
However, my primarily purpose today is not to call attention to the effect of immigration policies on the undocumented adult immigrants among us. Rather, my primary purpose is to call our attention to the effect of these policies on the thousands of children that are the innocent dependents of these adult immigrants. Recent estimates suggest that the number of undocumented immigrants in Indiana may be as many as 100,000 to 120,000, and I believe that at least a third of that number must be children.
Some will counter, “But the ones who are responsible are their undocumented parents.” And I agree. However, when children are put in harm’s way because of the actions of their parents, whatever may be the reasons, then someone needs to step in the gap.
This brings me to a third principle that is relevant to the current immigration situation:
3. That our government has a special responsibility regarding the young, the aged, and the marginalized.
The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
(Hubert H. Humphrey)
For these reasons, I urge you as my representatives to give special attention to the potential effect of immigration policy on the innocent children of those who are not yet documented. These children are living among us through no choice of their own, and your response to this situation will have huge implications regarding their present and future well-being.