Harold Heie
Harold Heie
Friday, September 14, 2012

I disagree with Steve King on numerous matters pertaining to immigration. Consider, for example, his position on any variation of a DREAM Act that would enable the children who were brought to the United States by parents who entered the country illegally to obtain conditional permanent residency if they have graduated from high school, and have either served in the military for two years or attended college for two years.

Representative King quickly dismisses such possible legislation as “amnesty” (as do many other opponents – Senator Grassley said that to me directly in response to a question I posed during his recent meeting in Orange City).

But how can the DREAM Act possibly be called “amnesty?” By definition, “amnesty” means “no punishment for a crime that has been committed.” Although their parents have committed a crime, the innocent children who would benefit from the DREAM Act have committed no crime, and, therefore, do not need amnesty.

But what should be done about the parents who have broken the law by entering the country illegally? King argues that since those parents have broken the law, they should be punished, and that punishment should be deportation. I agree that these parents should be punished for breaking the law. But why should the punishment be as severe as deportation? It is a huge failure in moral imagination to deny the possibility of a viable middle ground between no punishment and deportation (such as an appropriate fine). Finding such middle ground would not be amnesty (since a punishment would be given) and it would open up the possibility of creating a workable pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants, which Mr. King rejects, and I support.

So, Mr. King and I have major disagreements about a number of immigration issues. But that is OK. We ought to be able to express our disagreements in a respectful manner, with the hope, however slim, that we can find some common ground.

But the words sometimes chosen by Mr. King to express his views on immigration are not OK. Consider, for example, his recent suggestion that an illegal immigrant can be likened to a “bird dog” who is only interested in “sleeping in the corner,” rather than doing what bird dogs are meant to do. If Mr. King is suggesting that illegal immigrants are not making a strong contribution to our economies, he needs to talk to those local agribusiness owners who have told me they would soon go out of business if not for the hard work of their immigrant employees, even those who may be undocumented.

But that is the least of my concerns about Mr. King’s pronouncement. What deeply offends me is that Mr. King chooses to draw a comparison between selecting bird dogs and dealing with Hispanic immigrants. My new Hispanic friends are human beings. I respectfully suggest to Mr. King that for him to draw an analogy between the selection of bird dogs and the treatment of illegal immigrants is to dehumanize some of my Hispanic neighbors.

It is never OK to dehumanize another human being. Although there is some legitimate room for differences in moral codes, no responsible moral code dehumanizes another person. This is especially true for those like me (and I am told Mr. King) who profess commitment to the Christian faith, since any conceivable Christian moral code takes seriously the biblical teaching that every human being is created in the image of God, and is thus worthy of the respect and dignity that is owed to a human being.

I have waited too long to express my dismay at the language that Mr. King has sometimes used when talking about my new Hispanic friends. I can no longer remain silent, for I have heard too many painful stories from Hispanic neighbors about how our broken immigration system is having a devastating effect on the unity and stability of their families (and the strange irony is that many who are not willing to fix our immigration system are the first to express verbal commitment to family values).

All people of good will, Christian or otherwise, living in the 4th Congressional District in Iowa should stand up and say “Mr. King, enough is enough.”

You can certainly express your beliefs about immigration and other issues of importance to our district. But please do not dehumanize our new Hispanic neighbors. And we dare to suggest, on behalf of our Hispanic neighbors, that you owe them an apology.

(Harold Heie of Orange City is a senior fellow at the Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College, in Wenham, Mass. Retired and living in Orange City, Heie is a former vice president for academic affairs at Northwestern College.)