Abraham, Sarah, and the Arizona Immigration Law of 2010

Op-ed first appeared in The Oregonian on May 3, 2010 – see it here

In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, we read about Abraham and Sarah’s journey to the Promised Land. Shortly after they arrive, they encounter famine and head to Egypt in search of food. Foreigners without family or clan to protect them, they are afraid. Abraham asks Sarah to pretend to be his sister in the hope that this will help them avoid trouble — an act of deceit that made sense in the context of their times. The gamble works out badly. Pharaoh’s courtiers notice Sarah’s beauty, and the king summons her to his harem. Only divine intervention lets Sarah escape without having to sleep with the king.

It’s a pitiable story. Abraham and Sarah lie and humiliate themselves to try to survive in a foreign nation they have not received permission to enter. It must have been agonizing. It’s a story of strangers in a strange land, without protection, without connections and without a right to go about their business unmolested. It’s an illegal immigrant’s story.

Are things so different for America’s illegal, undocumented immigrants? And is the new Arizona law, which goes so far as to allow race and language to be a factor in police spot-checking peoples’ identity papers, a response that models the best of our society’s values?

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