Thursday, October 28, 2021
Oct. 28, 2021

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Jayne: In Portland, what’s right, wrong in immigration debate

By , Columbian Opinion Editor

The pastor? He’s on solid ground. He is embracing his duty to be loving. To be compassionate. To judge not, lest he be judged.

Mark Knutson, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland, has welcomed an illegal immigrant into his church simply because the man needed welcoming. And I can’t help but think we would be better off if all churches lived up to their ideals in such high-minded fashion. Yet, in so doing, Knutson has illuminated a case that has thrown a spotlight upon the shadows of this country’s immigration debate.

It started, you see, when Francisco Aguirre, a 35-year-old from El Salvador who lives in Fairview, Ore., got a knock on the door from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The agents did not have a warrant, so Aguirre ordered them off his property. He reviewed his options and decided to seek refuge at Augustana Lutheran, which has earned a reputation for being welcoming.

Aguirre, apparently, was deported from the United States in 2000, after being convicted of drug trafficking offenses. He returned to this country at some point, and since then has become a labor activist in the Portland area, founding the Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project to help male Latino immigrants find work. When he recently was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, he landed back on the radar of immigration officials.

“I’ve been a leader in this community for so many years,” Aguirre said. “I’m part of this community, and this is where I belong.”

Which, of course, points out the problem with our immigration conundrum. Because, no, this country is not where Aguirre belongs. He has been convicted of drug trafficking; he has been deported once; he has entered the United States illegally on at least two occasions; and he is facing DUI charges.

In the one week since all this came to the public eye, Aguirre has unraveled any good he did to help the plight of illegal immigrants in this country. In the one week since he became fodder for those opposed to immigration reform, Aguirre has managed to reaffirm all the negative stereotypes about immigrants who willfully ignore the laws of this country.

Yet that isn’t the real problem here. Because while Knutson, the pastor at Augustana Lutheran, has rightly demonstrated the compassion that should be expected from a man of God, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has abdicated his duties as an elected leader. “Our community benefits from the work done by Francisco.” Hales said in a statement. “I believe Francisco should remain in the United States, and in Portland, until his case can reach a humane conclusion.”

Ignoring the law

In the process, Hales has obliterated what should be the differences between church and state. As Knutson said to The Oregonian’s Steve Duin, “Do we forgive each other? Or do we label one another for life? You may have committed a crime, but now you’re back to being a child of God. We are better than the worst things we have ever done.” And while Knutson can say that and sound as if the sincerity is fueled by a higher power, Hales has eschewed his duty to uphold the laws he was elected to defend.

With that, it is easy to see why the issue of illegal immigration is so sensitive for so many in this country. Personally, I think much of the hand-wringing over immigration is misguided, xenophobic fear-mongering. Personally, I think the melding of cultures and the embracing of differences makes this nation stronger, not weaker, despite the fear inherent in a post-9/11 society. As The Economist wryly wrote, “A mass murder committed by mostly Saudi terrorists resulted in an almost limitless amount of money being made available for the deportation of Mexican house-painters.”

Which, of course, is the discussion we should be having. If only people like Francisco Aguirre and Charlie Hales didn’t keep changing the subject.