My father came to this country when he was 15 years old; my mother arrived when she was 19 years old. I value and love my diverse family. I am full of such pride in the ways that my parents served this country.
As a pastor and a person of faith, I value and love immigrants as I do all God’s children. In Billings, and across Montana, immigrants are a wonderful and vital part of our families and communities.
House Bills 200 and 223 represent a threat to those neighbors to whom we should be tending.
These bills simply do not comport with our calling to love our neighbor. They would require that our local police enforce federal immigration law in ways that erode trust and undermine the safety of our communities. This puts a burden on our city and county local law enforcement. And we know too well what this type of policy does to communities and families; it can destroy the individual lives of our neighbors as well as our community as a whole by dividing families and potentially taking people out of a community who have been there for years.
While proponents of these bills may say that the most ‘dangerous criminals’ are the ones who will be detained through these policies, the reality is that people with minor offenses, such as a traffic violation, are often the ones who end up being detained, and too often deported. This is not the welcome and hospitality that we are called to show the stranger, the immigrant, and the refugee.
Of particular concern is House Bill 223, which would force our police to enforce ‘immigration detainers’ that have mistakenly swept up thousands of U.S. citizens over the past twenty years. Such fear-driven policy does not make us safer, and it does not make us better.
In contrast to the fear and resentment of immigrant people that this proposed legislation embodies, we draw from the Bible and from stories of ancestors that immigrants were forced to immigrate due to natural disaster, economic hardship, oppression, cultural and social violence, and war. The same is true today of the immigrant population. We also know that immigrants strengthen and add beauty to our communities.
We must not fear and demonize immigrants in our communities.
But that’s what these bills do. They are an attack on God’s beloved community. The foundation of trust our communities depend on for public safety and prosperity will crumble as immigrants and others fear for their well-being and retreat into the shadows.
The Bible calls on us, above all else, to love our neighbor as ourselves. These bills are an expression of unfounded fear, not of love. My faith calls me into action, and I hope it will call others into action as well.
I hope legislators say ‘no’ to these harmful bills. I hope their vote brings us together, and welcomes and protects the “sojourners and strangers” among us. Let’s ask legislators not to target the strangers in our midst - by asking them to vote ‘no’ on these two bills.