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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Immigration issue indeed one of morality

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It has been a long time, but Slim Coleman finally has his mug back on television and in the papers.

It took Elvira Arellano--the picked-upon illegal immigrant who as of this writing is holed up in Coleman's tiny Humboldt Park church--to do it, but us scribblers have got to stand in admiration. The publicity-seeking Uptown "activist" Coleman managed not just to yank himself out of decades of local obscurity, but instantly land himself on national TV.

Wow.

I imagine (or hope) by the time this appears, the media will have gotten around to detailing Coleman's background, which may have been obscured by the fact he is now going by his given name, Walter. It was in 1985 that columnist Mike Royko pulled back the covers on Coleman, who was bounding around Uptown, City Hall and wherever he could attract a camera, posing as a hillbilly activist. He gave himself the name Slim to better appear to be one of the many Appalachian good old boys and their kin residing up yonder around Wilson and Broadway.

In fact, he was a son of well-to-do Texas parents and a Harvard University philosophy student, according to Royko. While in his Snuffy Smith mode, he made the news by such stunts as trying to attack former Chicago Ald. Eddie Vrdolyak in the City Council. Since then, few of us realized that he had been laboring for the salvation of souls in the local vineyards, until he was mentioned at the bottom of a story a couple of years ago as being among the "religious leaders" who "decried" U.S. "torture" of war detainees.

Slim continues in the same vein with the Arellano stunt, with the same results: a PR disaster. Yes, conventional wisdom says that claiming church sanctuary is masterful PR, putting immigration officials in the Hobson's choice of dragging a woman and her young son out of a church, or letting her flout the law. But already it has hardened feelings against illegal immigrants and created some doubts among their supporters. Clearly, it didn't prove the need for "legalization" of illegal immigrants, as provided in a Senate-passed bill. (For utopians who think the Arellano affair demonstrates the need for the Senate's "reforms," do you think that she and millions of others would, as the bill requires, show up to pay a $2,000 fine and back taxes, then wait five years to apply for citizenship, contingent on a criminal background check, steady employment and no criminal conduct--other than sneaking into America?)

But, come, let us not doubt Coleman's purity of purpose. Let's concede that Arellano, Coleman and their supporters truly believe their assertion that deporting her would be "immoral." She is defying an "immoral" law, just as civil rights pioneers asserted when they defied civil authorities to protest clearly immoral Jim Crow laws. Moral, they say, trumps legal. I agree.

But just how are restrictions on legal immigration immoral? Just saying it doesn't make it so. A few do make a stab at explaining it: For some, it is immoral to "deny opportunities" to lawbreakers. Others say "social justice" requires that the laws not be enforced. For some, simply being "mean-spirited" or "insensitive" is immoral.

Is it moral for a nation to create a ready supply of easily exploitable and underpaid peons? Is a cash-only system of tax evasion, shifting more of the tax burden onto taxpayers, moral?

Is it moral to regard human beings as primarily a unit of labor important to our nation's financial health? Is it moral to depress the wages of those who are here legally? Is human smuggling moral?

Yes, the moral imperative to care for everyone applies equally to Arellano. And if moral choices simply applied to individuals, Arellano would stay. But morality is more complex, involving such concepts as the "common good" and doing what's right for an entire community, even if that entire community is as big as a sovereign nation.

Thus, immigration officials, in seeking to expel Arellano, are acting not only legally, but also morally. Because without such moral actions, our country would be a mess.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

6 comments:

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

You focused on morality from our side of the fence. Certainly it is not right to view immigrants simply as cheap labor.

From their perspective, however, they are desperate for jobs. A guest worker program would be a simple way to address that need. If one is implemented, then we must tackle the thornier issue of what to do with those who came here illegally, before the adoption of such a program. While the Senate bill was an imperfect compromise, it has some merit. Because it contains a provision for a database that can be used to check the status of immigrants, their only choice will be to follow the procedure toward legalization.

Jake Hewitt said...

The racism (in several ways) of a guest worker program is per se immoral. First, it would throw legions of working poor African-Americans into poverty (indeed, the Tribune cover story on Mississippi African-American women, who for the first time in centuries lifted their families out of poverty just to be crushed by the arrival of illegal immigrants, was heart-wrenching).

Second, it's racist to the poor of Africa and lower Asia, who are even more desparate for jobs and would gladly work as guest workers (indeed, they'd work for far less than most illegal immigrants).

The Senate's "Green Card Amnesty" plan is a polite way of saying "we want 80% of our guest workers to be from Mexico and Guatemala." A MORAL immigration policy demands 1) a serious effort to verify that guest workers are doing "jobs no American is willing to do" (I guess Ariana Huffington couldn't find an African-American in all of California willing to work as her nanny -- in a recession no less) and 2) immigration isn't tilted to favor one race.

Stephen Schade said...

There are no conclusive studies showing that illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans. Although it may have occurred in the Mississippi case, there is nothing to suggest it is widespread.

Of greater concern are the people living in other countries who take jobs from Americans. If American Apparel can make good profits paying its Los Angeles workers a living wage, then why can't other companies follow suit?

No one, not even the United States, can save the world. We all have to pick where we distribute our charity. Just because I went to Poland on a service project last year does not mean that I am ignoring the rest of the world.

Mexico, because of its location, presents a special case. No matter how hard we try, we cannot keep them out. The guest worker program merely provides a reaonable way to manage the problem.

Tony C said...

In regards to your writings about 9/11. Instead of calling the conspiracy people "loonies", ehy not attempt to answer the questions that no one else will talk about? ----We have one camera view of the plane crashing into the Pentagon, even though there were several other cameras in the area, why have we not seen these videos? How could an inexperienced pilot make the turn that he did with a commercial airliner going 500 miles an hour, not black out, and hit the pentagon where he did? By all rights, he should not have come close to hitting that building. Ever travel 500 miles an hour? Everything on the ground looks the same, yet he hit his target. Weeks before 9/11, huge investments were made that stock in American, and United Airlines would drop. Are we to believe that it was someone's keen business sense to make this investment?? There are so man questions about 9/11, and the government does not want to answer them. Simple solution, answer the questions that should be answered.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Byrne,

I read your comments today about the 911 anniversary and the conspiracy theorists. Not agreeing with the 911 movement is fine, but demonizing those involved by suggesting they are crazy is not only insulting, but misleading to the public you serve to inform.

Kent Frederick said...

Mr. Byrne:

I have a few questions about Walter "Slim" Coleman that you should check out.

First, where did he go to seminary. Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, on the Northwestern campus, is the number one seminary among Methodist minsters in northern Illinois.

Two, when was Rev. Coleman ordained in the United Methodist Church? And did the Church know that it was getting a PR-seeking gadfly, when he applied for ordination?

Three, is his current church the only one that he has served, or has he served elsewhere prior to his current appointment?

(FYI, Methodist clergy, like most Catholic priests, are appointed to a church by a bishop and serve at a church at the pleasure of the bishop.)

Fourth, has Rev. Coleman gotten into hot water with his superiors, the Bishop of Northern Illinois and the District Superintendant, for keeping an anti-immigration activist from attending a service?

One of the things that I have heard repeatedly as a lifelong Methodist, is that communion in the United Methodist Church is open to all Christians, regardless of denominational membership.

Keeping the activist out seems to put Rev. Coleman at odds with a tradition that the Methodists have followed since John Wesley.

This is more food for thought, but what happens when the Bishop feels it's time for Rev. Coleman to move on? Generally, a Methodist minister can't make a career of serving inter-city churches. At some point, he has to go to a suburban church or a rural church, if his background indicates a possible fit.

I have trouble seeing Slim Coleman at a church in rural Illinois, say out by the Quad Cities.

And I can't see a church in Wilmette, Barrington, or Hinsdale agreeing to have him as a pastor.