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I am a lawbreaker. One of those illegals. Last week I drove to Little Rock. As I left Fayetteville, I set my cruise control to 75 in a 70-mph zone. About half the other cars passed me.

Along the drive my mind jumped from interstate traffic to inter-state traffic. Immigration. There's an argument abroad that immigrants to the U.S. just need to follow the law. "Get in line." But the legal line is a dysfunctional, congested stand-still.

Imagine you are a U.S. citizen and you have brother or sister, a citizen in Mexico, whom you would like to sponsor to immigrate legally to the U.S. Just follow the law and get in line. That line is 18 years long for an application to be considered. If the loved one is your married son or daughter, it's a 20-year wait. Forget watching the grandkids grow up. No wonder some people run the risk of speeding. They immigrate before they get a green light or a green card. It's a dysfunctional system.

As I drove 75 in the 70 mph zone, I got to thinking about an analogy. What if the federal government arbitrarily set a 15-mph speed limit all on interstate highways? How fast would you drive? Would you be a good, law-abiding citizen and keep to the limit? Or be like me and risk going 5 mph above the law? Either way, going to Little Rock just tuned into a 10 to 15 hour drive.

Maybe you would buy a good radar detector and risk traveling 70 mph-plus? Or would you follow a radar-equipped coyote leader who buzzed past you at 75?

If illegals like that multiplied -- violating the 15-mph limit going 70-plus -- would you support the construction of speed bumps every 100 feet or so to keep the traffic at 15? After all, they should follow the law. Get in line.

It's an imperfect analogy, I know. But the immigration system is as broken as a 15-mph interstate speed limit.

There's a lot of law-and-order hostility toward immigrants these days. The hostility and fear of immigrants seems unfounded to me. It's not like we are being inundated. Traffic has slowed. Unauthorized immigration started dropping in 2007, and the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants in the U.S. has declined by 1 million since then. The number of undocumented people in the U.S. has been stable for nearly a decade.

Typically immigrants are family people who work hard and save. They revitalize our nation's economy. According to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, for every $1 Arkansas spends on services (education, health-care, corrections), immigrants generate $7 in business revenue and tax contributions.

Immigrants are today's job creators. Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start businesses as native-born Americans, and new businesses are the very best creators of new jobs. What's your favorite ethnic restaurant in Northwest Arkansas?

Immigrants embody our American values of hard work and thrift. Latino men have the highest employment rate in Arkansas. Despite their lower incomes, Arkansas immigrants are as likely as natives to own their own homes. They work hard at jobs that others spurn. The economic boom in Northwest Arkansas is energized by immigrant labor in construction, farming, service industries and poultry.

There are at least two reasons immigrant bashing is wrong. The first is self-interest. Immigrants, legal and illegal, add significantly to our economic and cultural vitality. The second is a moral and ethical reason. Immigrants are fellow human beings with the same hopes and dreams we all have. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Christians should be especially sensitive to the plight of immigrants and refugees. When Jesus was an infant, his family immigrated to Egypt. Jesus and his parents needed hospitality and charity for their survival and well-being. Later as a grown-up, Jesus told his followers, whenever we welcome a stranger, we welcome Jesus himself.

Legal immigration is a family issue. Arbitrary enforcement of unjust laws breaks up and separates families. Families live in shadows of fear. It stifles intentions for hard work, thrift, creativity and community. Immigrant children who have grown up here cannot pursue their education and offer their gifts to our society because we treat them like criminals.

It's time to give a legal path for good people to strive for the American dream. Enough of the deadly, legalistic talk of walls and deportation. "Welcome the stranger," the Bible tells us. That's what they did for my ancestors at Ellis Island.

Commentary on 09/13/2016

Print Headline: Welcome the strangers

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