Last Saturday, voters in Farmers Branch, Texas overwhelmingly (68%) approved an ordinance requiring apartment owners to demand proof of citizenship or legal residency when considering leasing housing to potential tenants. The target of the ordinance: the undocumented men, women and children from Mexico who live in the small, inner ring suburban community.
From my perspective this is an amazing development.
For one thing, it seems out of place for a city to tackle what is obviously a federal issue. This fact seems to motivate Deputy Mayor Pro Tem and City Council member Tim O'Hare who told Campbell Brown during NBC's Today Show on Monday that those in favor of the new city law were standing in the tradition of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.
I thought Ms. Parks and Dr. King violated local and state laws to entice the federal government to respond to the injustice with new national laws and protections. O'Hare's logic and his understanding of history astound me.
Then, there is everything else.
Supporters of the ordinance claim that these hard working, undocumented families use up the scarce resources of the community, including public education and health care. Few will acknowledge the fact that these families pay all sorts of taxes, including sales tax, federal withholding taxes, property taxes and Social Security taxes that they will never be able to reclaim. Undocumented workers are in essence paying for my retirement, with no hope of receiving such benefits themselves no matter how hard or long they work.
Last week I read an article about the public schools serving Farmers Branch. Evidently, the high school is one of the best in the area. The student body is majority Hispanic.
The most common argument I hear--and at times, believe me, I do get an ear full!--is that "there should be no argument."
"We are a law abiding society and immigration is all about obeying the law."
Much is wrong with the way our laws regarding Mexican immigration have been applied, enforced and managed over the past decade or longer.
Somehow over 12 million undocumented immigrants, most from Mexico, managed to enter the United States. The vast majority of the adults have found jobs, work hard every day and serve the interests of American business as a cheap and often exploited source of labor. They are not made felons by entering the country.
The U. S. Congress has not been too keen on facing the challenge of crafting new, comprehensive immigration reform.
Until recently, with increased political pressure, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have done little to punish employers for hiring undocumented workers.
The IRS has been more than happy to bank the taxes paid by undocumented workers without comment, even creating a special "suspended file" for the funds paid on clearly bogus Social Security numbers. My understanding is that annually these funds are equivalent to 10% of the Social Security reserve fund.
Markets have done nothing but encourage the influx of more laborers without proper papers.
Major banks offer checking accounts and credit.
Our foreign policy has done virtually nothing to encourage the sort of economic development inside Mexico that would curtail the influx of immigrants to the U. S.
So, what is the proper response? Pass local, city ordinances to "uphold the law"?
The quote from the report in Monday's paper (The Dallas Morning News, "After immigrant rental ban's approval, some plan exodus," by Dianne Solis, May 14, 2007, A6) that really got to me came from a Mexican woman who is now moving out of Farmers Branch after living there with her family for years.
She said, the emotion leaping off the page and over my first cup of coffee, "It is just so difficult to think that they don't want us here."
Sorry, lady. It's all about obeying the law.
Maybe we need to remember the words and ideas of Henry David Thoreau expressed in his important essay, "Civil Disobedience." His thinking on the nature of law certainly influenced the likes of Dr. King and Gandhi.
Thoreau spoke of "actions through principles."
In other words, if the rules and demands of a government or a society run contrary to moral law and to individual conscience, it is my duty to reject, ignore and disobey them, according to Thoreau. That, of course, is what Rosa Parks did on that Montgomery bus. (By the way, I was taught this same value in Sunday School as a child here in Texas!)
Thoreau observed. ". . .it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right." Law should be respected, not because it is law, but only because it is right, just and fair.
"The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right," he wrote.
To be morally right and to pursue justice in life is the goal, and is more honorable than being law-abiding, like the bus driver who obeyed the law and told Rosa Parks to go the the back of the bus where the law, a really bad law, said she belonged.
Ironically, Thoreau wrote his famous essay in 1848. He was thinking of slavery and the invasion of Mexico, both violated his conscience.
Laws can be wrong.
Laws can be bad.
There are higher values than being "law-abiding." Honest people who argue that obeying laws must remain our supreme, inviolate national value need to rethink their position.
Those who are hiding behind the rhetoric of "a nation of laws," need to get honest about their real concerns.
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