How do we secure our borders and protect ourselves against would-be terrorists, while at the same time avoiding blanket discrimination against Muslims? Like Hispanics, the vast majority of Muslim immigrants come to this country for an education, to escape persecution, to join family members, or for financial benefit.
What do we do with some 12 million illegal immigrants whose work makes a significant contribution to our economy, but who have broken our laws in order to get here? How do we streamline the process of granting residency and citizenship to immigrants, without neglecting safeguards? As the nation grapples with these questions, a slew of ugliness has come to the surface: that immigrants are lazy, that all Muslims are untrustworthy or that the dedicated practice of Islam equals extremism, that cultural pride is incompatible with integration into American society. We disregard the life-threatening hazards of crossing the border illegally, and the substandard wages and dangerous work conditions immigrants may face once they get here.
Worst of all, many of us seem to have forgotten that our own grandparents, great-grandparents or other relatives came from distant lands. They celebrated their own cultures while embracing American ideals, and they came here for the same reasons and fleeing similar conditions as the immigrants who come here today.
Xenophobia, racism, irrational fears and cultural elitism are not sound motives for policy. Rather, we should use precepts that have served as the basis for civil society and which are taught by all religions: compassion, a concern for human welfare, and a charitable attitude toward those less fortunate than ourselves.
As a Muslim, I find inspiration in the Quran, which says: "Be good to your parents, to relatives, to orphans, to the needy, to neighbors from among your people and neighbors who are strangers, to the friend by your side and the wayfarer, and to those who have been enslaved. God does not like the arrogant, and boastful, those who hoard their wealth and encourage others to be miserly."
Prophet Muhammad told us that we are not true believers until we want for others what we want for ourselves. These are the principles upon which our decisions about how to handle immigration reform should be based.
I think about what it's like to live in a country where you aren't safe from government persecution; where you cannot reliably provide your family with food, clothing, shelter, and other daily necessities; or where educational and career opportunities don't exist or are available only to the elite. How can I begrudge people the desire for a better life when it is what I want for myself and my family?
I think of how much of the world's wealth America consumes and controls. I remember that natural resources do not belong to a few, but should benefit the entire world. How, then, can I deny people the right to share in that wealth?
Even more, shouldn't the United States, instead of hoarding its wealth, make a serious commitment to improving the economies of developing countries, so that the bounties of God's creation enrich every human being, and they wouldn't need to come here in the first place? Shouldn't we uphold human and civil rights for all peoples so they enjoy the freedoms that attract them to America?
I ask myself if I would like to be profiled or held guilty by association. It is compassionate or just to profile an entire faith group because a few of their co-religionists have committed acts of terrorism? Is it fair or kind to condemn an entire ethnic group because some people who happen to speak the same language have committed crimes? Of course not. That some Hispanics or Muslims have committed criminal acts does not mean all Hispanics or Muslims will--or that Chinese or Japanese or any other kind of immigrant won't.
When immigration dilemmas are viewed in this light, it becomes clear that an open-door immigration policy not only helps the American economy, but is also the only truly moral choice.
Of course we must safeguard our borders, but we should also process all applications in a timely fashion and apply background checks equally across the board--not singling out entire groups for extra stringency or delays. As for the millions of people who entered this country illegally, they should be treated with clemency, considering that the laws which would have kept them out were not humane in the first place.