Sunday, August 28, 2016

Walls, Welcome, Mercy, Law

On the road to Croatia, Stuart Sia, Save the Children
The world is on the move, with more migrants than ever before, crossing borders, deserts, seas in
search of safety, food, water, opportunity, or the chance to reunite their families.

While those journeys start far away, the causes of the journeys are often close at hand: agricultural policies that have shifted whole people groups from their ancestral lands or priced out small scale farmers; weapons sales escalating ancient conflicts; extractive industries forcing removal of villages; sea-level rise flooding island nations and coastal cities around the globe.

I listen with great sadness to the political posturing around deportation or the fabled wall to protect our southern border.  

This fear and hatred of the immigrant: will it ever end?

On this continent, WE are the immigrant. All of us except the tiny percentage of remaining pure-blood Native Americans.

We would do well to keep that reality in mind. As Exodus instructs: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land ” (Exodus 22:21)

My own earliest US ancestor was a pre-Revolution Welsh shipping clerk who sold alcohol to native Americans in port cities from Philadelphia to New Amsterdam to Albany. Parts of the family continued on to Canada, not to return until sometime in the 20th century, traveling unchecked over the border in both directions.

Another ancestor arrived in Ellis Island in 1903, with no papers to his name (he was three) and no documentation beyond point of departure. Another arrived from Ireland in 1914. He married a Swedish girl born in North Dakota.

Legal immigrants? Given the laws of the time, that wasn’t hard to accomplish. Early laws excluded Chinese, “lunatics,” or those visibly contagious. Beyond that, the rules were loose until sometime after my relatives arrived. None of them had birth certificates, passports or other papers. None of them were deported, or made to wait months in detention camps.

Our current route to legal entry is very different: confusing, restrictive and in many ways far out of step with the dangerous realities so many migrants are fleeing.

A chart created by Reason magazine gives some idea of the daunting maze facing anyone hoping to join our great nation (click on the chart to read it in a new window). For most of our relatives, if they tried to enter now, the answer would be “Sorry, you’re out of luck.” Wait time? For some years, or decades. For others, “approaching infinity.”

According to Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The word translated “stranger” could also be foreigner, alien, sojourner. In Greek it's translated “xenos”, the root of our word “xenophobia”: fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or anything strange or foreign.

Read through the history of our immigration laws and trace our xenophobic roots. Outright bans on Chinese, then Asians, quotas for “less desirable” nationalities, even now discussion of different rules for people of certain backgrounds or religions. Attempts to reform inadequate laws have been stalled for decades, as farmers struggle to find seasonal workers and children seeking safety wait in limbo in crowded detention camps.

Christians have always wrestled with the challenge of unjust laws that oppose the demands of righteousness. Quakers smuggled escaped slaves; German Christians hid Jewish neighbors. Today, many congregations befriend and aide undocumented immigrants living in fear of deportation.

Child Migration Continues
Yes, we have laws. But when we balance law and mercy, which should win?

In puzzling over this, I came across a conversation hosted in 2010 by the Patheos Cross Examination series. Nine Christian leaders were invited to share their thoughts on illegal immigration and deportation. Unfortunately, links to the full conversation are no longer working. Mark D. Roberts, Presbyterian pastor and professor at Fuller Seminary, summarized posts by all participants, with his own observations and questions on each. 

The discussion, though long, is worth reading and considering, as is Roberts’ discussion, near the end, about how it’s possible for Christians to start from such different points of view and draw such conflicting conclusions.

If we start from loyalty to law, then deportation seems a reasonable solution. But we still might ask: have we ever broken a law? Does the punishment in this case fit the supposed crime?

If we start from a place of economic concern, then research might be the best response: economic analysis shows that immigrants, legal or not, help our economy thrive, and every immigrant, legal or not, pays taxes that exceed services gained.  The Economic Policy Institute offers a roundup of research and concludes
[t]o the extent there is something to fear, it stems from not providing legal status to unauthorized immigrants, and from guestworker programs where workers have limited rights and are tied to one employer. A useful framework for thinking about this is that any situation where workers’ individual bargaining power is reduced is going to put downward pressure on their wages, and therefore also on the wages of workers in similar occupations and industries. . . .
There is a fairly broad consensus that the present value of the long-run net fiscal impact of unauthorized immigration, at all levels of government combined, is small but positive—meaning that immigration reduces overall budget deficits. . . .
Unauthorized immigrants are a net positive for public budgets because they contribute more to the system than they take out.
If we start from a place of fear, would it help to read that economic policy report? Or would more information about the vetting process for refugees  or about crime rates for immigrants help put that fear in perspective? And what of instructions to “fear not”? If perfect love cast out fear, would love of the stranger quiet our concern?
When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land . . . . (Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22 )
Mark Roberts suggests we might start in Genesis: with the knowledge that we’re made in the image of God. Not just those who look most like us. Not just those who speak our language.
If all human beings bear the image of God and therefore are to be treated with dignity, then this surely includes those who are in the United States illegally. So called “illegal aliens” are, first and foremost, sacred beings created in God’s own image. Thus they, like all of humanity, should be regarded as sacred and treated with respect.
Another starting point, also from Genesis, is the vision of fruitfulness, or human flourishing.
Those who “take the side” of undocumented workers often speak as if they care mainly or exclusively about the fruitfulness of these people. Those who are concerned about the well-being of the United States often seem to care about the fruitfulness of our citizens to the exclusion of others. A biblical perspective, I believe, inspires us to shape a world in which all peoples in the Americas (and beyond) would have the opportunity to live truly fruitful lives.
Beyond these starting points stands the teaching of Jesus:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matt 25:31-40).
Notice who is included among those who received tangible acts of love: the stranger. The Greek word translated as “stranger” here is xenos, which can also mean “foreigner.” It denotes someone who is an outsider, who doesn’t belong. Jesus identifies with the xenos to such an extent that welcoming the xenos is welcoming Jesus himself.
In the parable we know as “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus paints a picture of the archetypal xenos (from the first-century Jewish point of view) who loves another xenos, and thus becomes a model for all who would follow Jesus. In the kingdom of God, that which divides people from people fall away, replaced by love that knows no national or ethnic boundaries.
Starting points shape our understanding.

So do end points.

What’s our goal?

Strong nation?

Robust economy?

Just society?

Obedience to the call of compassion?

When candidates offer to round up illegals, deport millions, build bigger walls, what grid do we use to evaluate the vision?

When we offer those words to God in prayer, what answer are we given?

Dear God, our journey through life is long and hard.
We cannot make this trip alone; we must walk together on the journey.
You promised to send us a helper, your Spirit.
Help us to see your Spirit in those you send to journey with us.

In the refugee family, seeking safety from violence,
    Let us see your Spirit.
In the migrant worker, bringing food to our tables,
    Let us see your Spirit.
In the asylum-seeker, seeking justice for himself and his family,
    Let us see your Spirit.
In the unaccompanied child, traveling in a dangerous world,
    Let us see your Spirit.

Teach us to recognize that as we walk with each other, you are present.
Teach us to welcome not only the strangers in our midst
    but the gifts they bring as well:
    the invitation to conversion, communion, and solidarity.
This is the help you have sent: we are not alone.
We are together on the journey, and for this we give you thanks.


This post is part of a series on What's Your Platform
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016 
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections, August 10, 2016 
How Long Will the Land Lie Parched? August 21, 2016 
Other posts on immigration: 
About that Banner Photo, November 11, 2011
Epiphany and Philoxenia: Entertaining Angels, January 4, 2015

Sunday, August 21, 2016

How Long Will the Land Lie Parched?

CC BY 3.0,
Last summer was the hottest on record.

This summer has been much hotter.

Raging wildfires in the California hills are spreading at record speed, consuming thousands of acres overnight.

Catastrophic flooding in Louisiana, the latest in a string of under-reported epic floods, has put the National Flood Insurance program billions into debt.

While some politicians debate the reality of climate change, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and international counterparts struggle to come to terms with the clear evidence of sea level rise and ever worsening 

The Migration Policy Institute has identified climate change as an important factor in the unprecedented surge in global migration, with millions on the move due to drought, famine, flooding, violence fueled by shrinking resources. 

The prophet Jeremiah described a world in which human choice brought environmental consequence: 
How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. (Jeremiah 12:4) 
What would Jeremiah say about oceanic dead zones? The growing man-made deserts in Central Asia and North Africa? Mountain top removal? The lingering sludge of the tar sand spill lining the Kalamazoo?

There is a tight correlation in scripture between the health of the land and the appetites of its people. Adam and Eve’s greed and disobedience in Genesis spilled immediately onto the ground itself: “Cursed is the ground because of you. 

In Leviticus, God’s people were warned that the productivity of the land would be tied to their obedience in the use of it. Plow and plant for six years, let it lie fallow the seventh, and God would provide far more than they needed: 
If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land. (Leviticus 26:3-5)
In the prophetic books, Jeremiah and others warned of environmental devastation resulting from misuse of the land, injustice toward the poor, disobedience of God’s laws. They warned of drought, famine, crop failure, barren fields, thorns and thistles, roving jackals.

Explicit condemnation of exploitation of the land echoes through the prophetic warnings: 
As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? (Ezekiel 34:17-19) 
As Ezekiel and other prophets make clear, the poor are most harmed by environmental exploitation, least responsible for its cause.

Pollution Yellow Skies, Kay Jackson, Washington DC
Given the connection between greed and global harm explicit in prophecy and increasingly evident in the physical world around us, I find it hard to understand that the strongest opposition to the idea of climate change has come from Christians who claim an allegiance to the authority of scripture.

I find myself wondering: what’s behind the insistence that climate change isn’t real?

Who has most to lose in a shift to renewable resources?

Who has most to gain from continuing the status quo?

Last week I found myself discussing rooftop solar panels with our son, who recently bought a house in Maryland.

I had spent months investigating solar for our own house, with its south-facing roof, and was told by several companies that given our energy efficient house and current Pennsylvania incentives, going solar wouldn’t save us much.

Since the 1830s, Pennsylvania’s energy policy has been shaped by extractive industries lobbying for subsidies and fighting off regulation. Our state is the only one in the country (in the world?) that allows natural gas extraction without any tax on volume extracted.

Maryland and New Jersey, with thousands of miles of coastline and hundreds of low-lying islands, have already seen the effect of sea level rise and have instituted strong policies to shift away from fossil fuel. Both states offer strong support to renewable energy. I find myself wondering: what would it take for Pennsylvania to do the same? 

In 2009, Donald Trump joined dozens of New York executives in an open letter to President Obama commending his attendance at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. 
As business leaders we are optimistic that President Obama is attending Copenhagen with emissions targets. Additionally, we urge you, our government, to strengthen and pass United States legislation, and lead the world by example. We support your effort to ensure meaningful and effective measures to control climate change, an immediate challenge facing the United States and the world today. Please don't postpone the earth. If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.
We recognize the key role that American innovation and leadership play in stimulating the worldwide economy. Investing in a Clean Energy Economy will drive state-of-the-art technologies that will spur economic growth, create new energy jobs, and increase our energy security all while reducing the harmful emissions that are putting our planet at risk. We have the ability and the know-how to lead the world in clean energy technology to thrive in a global market and economy. But we must embrace the challenge today to ensure that future generations are left with a safe planet and a strong economy.
Please allow us, the United States of America, to serve in modeling the change necessary to protect humanity and our planet. 
More recently, Trump has described "the concept of global warming” as a hoax “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

Here’s the latest Trump energy environment plan, described in a speech in North Dakota this spring:
  • We’re going to rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions including the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.
  • We’re going to save the coal industry and other industries threatened by Hillary Clinton’s extremist agenda.
  • I’m going to ask Trans Canada to renew its permit application for the Keystone Pipeline.
  • We’re going to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas
  • We’re going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies. These technologies create millions of jobs with a smaller footprint than ever before.
  • We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs. . . . 
  • We’re going to do all this while taking proper regard for rational environmental concerns. We are going to conserve our beautiful natural habitats, reserves and resources.In a Trump Administration, political activists with extreme agendas will no longer write the rules. Instead, we will work with conservationists whose only agenda is protecting nature.
  • From an environmental standpoint, my priorities are very simple: clean air and clean water.

It's hard to imagine a more delusional, contradictory policy: unlimited gas and coal, no EPA, no regulations, crystal clear air and water. If only.

According our other major candidate, Hilary Clinton: 
Climate change is one of the most serious challenges we face. It’s real, it’s driven by human activity, and it’s happening right now. We need to use every tool we have to combat climate change and accelerate the transition to a clean energy future.
She’s described the tools she’s willing to use, but has also acknowledged that the tool economists consider most effective will not be discussed. 
“The clearest and most obvious way to reach the climate targets is with a nationwide carbon pricing method, whether a carbon tax or a cap and trade,” said Robert Stavins, the head of the environmental economics program at Harvard University. “But it’s not surprising, given the politics, that Secretary Clinton would not want to explicitly talk about carbon pricing.”
Climate Change in the American Christian Mind: Stewardship
The health of our globe, our communities, our children has fallen prey to political gamesmanship that will benefit a handful of extractive industries and the investors who lobby hard to bend the rules to their own economic advantage. 

Last year Yale University released a report on Climate Change in the American Christian MindThe report probed beliefs and concerns about global warming, perceptions of risk, ideas about stewardship and care of the earth and natural resources. 

The margins were narrower than I’d feared, but I still find myself wondering: if the trademark of the evangelical Christian is a strong belief in authority of scripture, how is it that we’ve missed the prophetic insistence that care of creation, care of the poor and obedience to God are inextricably linked?

This post is part of a series on What's Your Platform
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016 
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections, August 10, 2016 
Part of this was posted in 2012: Earth Day Shalom, Ripples of Resurrection 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Election Fraud and Rigged Elections

As election reform specialist for the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, I’ve been listening with alarm to recent talk about election fraud.

Candidate Donald Trump is already complaining about a rigged election, certain that if he loses it will be because of election fraud:
The whole thing with voter ID identification I think is really — I mean people are going to walk in, they are going to vote 10 times maybe. . .  Who knows? They are going to vote 10 times. I am very concerned and I hope the Republicans are going to be very watchful and I hope the authorities are going to be very watchful.
Trump’s confidante Roger Stone advises the candidate to make the “rigged” system a central focus of his candidacy: 
Stone went on to say that Trump should keep drumming up his supporters against the “rigged” system, and promise that the government will be shut down if Clinton is pronounced the victor in November. “If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” Stone said. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath… We will not stand for it.”
Who defines an honest election?

When was the last time we had one?

Who should be complaining?

Read or listen to any conservative news outlet and you can’t miss the clamor about voter fraud, with the accusation that liberals are responsible: 
Liberals rely on voter fraud to win elections and this year is no different. Democrats love to claim that voter fraud doesn’t exist, but the facts say otherwise. The non-partisan PEW research found that a staggering 24 MILLION, that’s 1 in 8, voter registrations are inaccurate or fraudulent. In fact, nearly 1.2 million illegals voted that we know of to get Obama elected.
 I’ve noticed that same PEW research referenced more than once. I’ve also noticed that in articles giving lots of links, that research is not normally linked to.

There’s a reason for that omission. The word FRAUD is used only once in the report. Here's what it says:    
The inability of this paper-based [voter registration] process to keep up with voters as they move or die can lead to problems with the rolls, including the perception that they lack integrity or could be susceptible to fraud. 
There’s no mention at all in the report of illegal aliens (or “illegals” as outraged reporters insist on calling them.)
The PEW Center on the States:
Election Initiative Issues Brief
Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient

I’ve referenced that research myself to argue for modernized registration practices: online registration, same day voter registration, automatic registration, universal registration. As the PEW research makes eminently clear, our registration practices are outdated and inefficient.

When people move, they forget to update their registrations, forget to inform past locations that they’ve moved. As a result, many people have multiple registrations in multiple places. I know I’ve moved multiple times without every notifying my local election commissioners. I’m probably one of that staggering 24 million.

The errors PEW catalogs have nothing to do with intentional fraud and Voter ID laws would not make those mistakes easier to catch.  I can think of friends and family members who have moved recently who could easily vote in two or three places with current photo ID. No one would know.

Most nations enroll citizens as voters when they reach eligible age. Social security numbers (or national equivalent) make that incredibly easy. Unfortunately, the same voices that cry against voter fraud have no interest in making voting more accessible or ensuring that college students, young adults or transient poor have equal opportunity to vote. 

Why do groups like the League of Women Voters fight back so hard against Voter ID laws? Because we know those laws are specifically, cynically, targeted to block certain types of voters: primarily poor, young and urban. At the same time, the laws also disproportionately impact women and the elderly, since women are far more likely to have changed their names (when marrying) and the elderly often have less access to required documentation.

The Heritage Center has gone to great length to document cases of election fraud, compiling all fraud convictions from 2008 to 2015. For Pennsylvania, they offer exactly six cases: none would have been deterred by photo ID laws. 

Of far greater impact on elections are the large numbers of voters turned away by outdated, state-specific registration practices. As a poll-watcher on a university campus in the 2012 election, I spoke with college students from other states, other parts of our own state, who showed up to vote, not knowing that if they had registered elsewhere they could not vote in their college electoral district. It was too late to go home to vote, too late to request an absentee ballot, so at that one polling place alone, dozens of students were turned away.

Add the accumulating stories of polling places deliberately moved to make voting harder for certain voters. I recently heard such a story from my own county. Students at Lincoln University, a historically black campus, had voted for years in the university gymnasium. Before the 2008 election, that polling place was inexplicably shifted to a small off-campus community center.

Democrats called the move a partisan and racially tinged effort by Republicans to cut turnout among African American students who tended to vote Democratic. The Lower Oxford-East Republican Committee had asked that the site be relocated, citing safety concerns on Lincoln's 422-acre campus. On Election Day in 2008, lines at the small community center were so long throughout the day that many waited for up to seven hours. Some stood in the rain and on nearby railroad tracks. Others left in frustration and didn't vote.
Interesting to consider whose perception of safety mattered.

Interesting to think of the millions in legal fees (taxpayer dollars) defending practices intended to protect “our” vote while cynically denying the vote to others. 

Even more troubling are the registration purges states have been conducting since the Supreme Court struck down to Voter RightsAct protection. Appropriately done, purges clean the registration record of people who have moved or died. Done with partisan intent, they can remove thousands, skewing elections and tying up voter lines in impacted neighborhoods. In just the past twelve months, state Leagues have been part of lawsuits in Virginia,  Kansas,Alabama, and Georgia.

Those cases involved thousands of voters turned away from the polls. A more spectacular case is still forming. In the recent primary in New York State, over 100,000 voters in the borough of Brooklyn found they had been “de-registerered.”
New York public radio station WNYC analyzed the voting records of citizens affected by the purge and determined that, compared to whites and other minority groups, Hispanic residents of the borough were disproportionately removed from the rolls. Nearly 14% of voters in Hispanic-majority precincts were purged, compared with 8.7% of the voters as a whole in the borough. Over 15% of voters with certain surnames suggesting Latino ancestry (such as Santiago, Soto, and Vega) were purged throughout Brooklyn.  
 In 2004, Robert Pastor, an elections monitor for emerging democracies, turned from his international work to deliver a scathing assessment of elections in his own home country:
In all 10 dimensions of election administration, the United States scores near the bottom of electoral democracies. There are three reasons for this. First, we have been sloppy and have not insisted that our voting machines be as free from error as our washing machines. We lack a simple procedure most democracies have: a log book at each precinct to register every problem encountered during the day and to allow observers to witness and verify complaints. 
Second, we lack uniform standards, and that is because we have devolved authority to the lowest, poorest level of government. It's time for states to retrieve their authority from the counties, and it's time for Congress to insist on national standards.
Third, we have stopped asking what we can learn from our democratic friends, and we have not accepted the rules we impose on others. This has communicated arrogance abroad and left our institutions weak.
His recommendations, and those of others, have been resolutely ignored. Since 2012, the international Electoral Integrity Project has evaluated democracies on a list of metrics and found the US wanting: 
Americans often express pride in their democracy, yet the results indicate that domestic and international experts rate the U.S. elections as the worst among all Western democracies.
Electoral Integrity Project, Electoral Integrity Index
Why do US elections rank so low?

Top problem: “gerrymandering of district boundaries to favor incumbents.”

Other concerns: 
  • electoral laws unfair to smaller parties
  • lack of equitable access to public subsidies and political donations
  • inaccurate and incomplete voter registration

 Add the concerns mentioned above.

The conclusion? 
Much debate in the U.S. focuses upon potential risks of fraud or voter suppression at the ballot box, but in fact experts rate earlier stages of American elections more critically. 
Compared to other democracies, our elections are, in reality rigged.

But not in the way Donald Trump and Roger Stone would like us to believe.

They are rigged by partisan gerrymandering and by electoral rules that favor the ruling parties.

Both parties play the game.

Both parties could help change it if voters paid closer attention.

This post is part of a series on What's Your Platform
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016