A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest
Quakers and Immigration
Originally Published in the June 2007 Washington Newsletter
by Ruth Flower
At one time, Quakers were immigrants to this continent. Today, Quakers may be immigrants themselves, neighbors or relatives of immigrants, employers or employees of immigrants, customers of or service-providers to immigrants, or active members of communities that include increasing numbers of immigrants.
I have found that Quakers are concerned for the rule of law rather than the rule of force, for the life of communities that include both immigrant and native low-income working families, for peace among peoples of all nationalities, and for the dignity and well-being of all people whether here in the united States or in other countries.
FCNL’s Statement of Legislative Policy acknowledges the importance of "a more equitable [global] distribution of wealth and economic opportunity" and "more widespread respect for and protection of human rights." It recognizes the "contributions of many peoples who continue to enrich this society," and specifically supports "openness to refugees, those seeking asylum, and family members of citizens."
The statement also supports equitable selection criteria for other immigrants, "eliminating bias based on race, national origin, and economic status." FCNL’s policy statement adds,"All those seeking to enter the united States or residing here should… be treated with justice and equity."
How are we led—by our understanding of who we are, of our history, and of our shared values —to respond to the complexities of the current immigration debate?
(1) Twelve million people are living in the United States illegally. If we respect the rule of law, can we endorse admitting these individuals to the country ahead of those who seek to immigrate legally?
On the other hand, our respect for justice and equity leads us to recognize that the legal channels for entry were severely curtailed during the last decade, while the U.S. government and U.S. employers were somewhat complicit in allowing or even encouraging workers to come across the border without paperwork to fill positions for which employers have not been able to find native workers. If we Friends are committed to justice, can we endorse a solution which calls for all of these individuals to be arrested and deported?
We at FCNL see a situation that calls for a fair and workable solution rather than for punitive or retributive measures.
Most of these undocumented individuals are currently employed and living with their families in communities all over the country. Locating, arresting, and deporting 12 million individuals is a daunting task which would have severely disruptive effects on communities and local economies and which is unlikely to be successful. Millions would likely stay on the margins of the economy, and so the problem would not be solved.
Compromises have been proposed which would provide a temporary stay for the individuals who are here now without documentation. Such proposal would require that undocumented individuals meet several criteria before eventually becoming eligible for permanent residency status. During the period of the temporary stay, the applications of those who have been waiting outside the borders of the U.S. would be processed, and they would be admitted in regular order. over a period of several years, a compromise such as this could offer a just solution that works for nearly everyone.
(2) We look for the day when the global economy functions better for all parts of the globe, but, for now, many people come to the United States for economic opportunities. Surely we cannot admit everyone.
Our Quaker testimonies on equity call us to be fair and even generous. Our testimonies on truth call us to do the math. The U.S. probably cannot admit every person who would like to immigrate here. But according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other economic observers, the U.S. will need many more workers than it will have in its native population in the coming decades.
These undocumented workers are needed to keep the U.S. economic engine running. The question is how to decide fairly who comes, and how to balance the flow of new workers with the employment needs of people who are already here—whether immigrant or native.
Writing Our History(3) Many U.S. communities that have not traditionally attracted large numbers of immigrants are now becoming home for people from very distant lands and cultures.
Small towns all over the country are reeling with challenges posed by this somewhat recent phenomenon. In some places, people feel threatened and are reacting with expressions of fear and sometimes racism. How are we led to respond?
During World War II, Japanese Americans were similarly vilified by a country reeling from an attack by a foreign entity. Some Quakers—those whom we most often want to claim in our history —reached out to Japanese Americans who were being interned in camps, helped them retain their property, brought education and services to the camps, and tried to keep communications open.
When Salvadoran refugees were fleeing U.S.-led violence in El Salvador, some Quakers helped to found and then assisted the sanctuary movement and led efforts to assist refugees who settled in their communities. What will we want to remember about what we did at this time? What will we want our history to say about what we did to respond to the fears of our neighbors and friends?
Ruth Flower, FCNL Associate Executive Secretary, is a member of Adelphi Friends Meeting, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, in Maryland.