Some immigrants are “undocumented” not “illegal”

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February 25, 2008

            President George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address on January 28, “Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved. And it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals.” He is right on this one.

            About twelve million illegal immigrants are residing and working in this country. “Illegal” is a poor word to describe their situation because it sounds like they are criminals when they in fact are not in the way we normally use that word. It is better to call them  undocumented people because they are here without proper documents.       


The complication that President Bush refers to rests on four points in my opinion. 1) this situation did not happen over night. It is the cumulative effect of not paying attention to it for many years.

            2) There has been a federal law on the books since the mid 1980’s that requires employers to verify that new hires are citizens by completing  Form I9. The reality is that this law is neither  complied with nor enforced. Both the government and companies have ignored it.

            3) The undocumented people comprise a mixture of spouses, children, and those seeking asylum. They also include those who arrived here with papers but have stayed beyond expiration of those papers.

            4) Michael Kinsley wrote that the phrase “illegal immigrants” is a cop-out and a cover for covert hostility toward all immigrants (Time November 2007). The reality of terrorism has added fear to the situation. Some people are using them as a scapegoat for the loss of jobs.

Punitive actions

            Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) has supported deportation of all twelve million without regard to circumstances. He also would deny social services to these people according to Time.  Certainly this attitude flows from hostility.

While it may be expedient to harangue about deportation of all of them this process would fly in the face of the Fourth Amendment which prohibits unlawful searches. It would also be costly in hiring investigators to find all these people and transporting them out of the country. It would finally be inhumane to send people away from the only place they ever lived. In the case of children, especially those who were born here and are presumed citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment, deportation would be an unconscionable act.

            State legislatures, including Michigan,   have introduced various legislation of a punitive nature. Some states have even passed them. Arizona has hiked the penalty for hiring undocumented workers. Oklahoma passed “Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007”. Which makes it “unlawful   to transport” or “conceal, harbor, or shelter from detection” any undocumented immigrant. The Catholic Bishop of Tulsa Edward Slatterly circulated a petition on which he obtained 1500 signatures saying they would not obey this unjust law. The penalty for breaking this law is up to one year in prison or $1,000 fine or both.


            I believe the ideals President Bush is referring to are summed up in the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

            Our founders declared that all have the “right to life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These two are high values in our country that need to be observed in setting policy for undocumented people.

            Along with these ideals is the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. From a Christian perspective it would be well to heed the command to “welcome the stranger in  our midst.” (See NAB Deuteronomy 10:19 and Matthew 25:43).


Many are saying that this issue must be resolved within the context of overall immigration reform.  While I don’t disagree with that statement, it should not be used to prolong the situation or exacerbate the solution.

Even though every country has the right to limit the number of immigrants to their country, this issue of undocumented people  requires special consideration because of the complications noted above. These must include  securing family stability, setting up a temporary worker program, restoring due process protection, legalizing their status and allowing them to  obtain citizenship. at the same time the United States must establishing just and effective border control,.

            Let’s evaluate the politicians’ proposals in light of these considerations. They will help us vote in the fall.