Arizona issue not so far away

The immigration situation in Arizona esta que arde, I told my dad last week, meaning that things seem to be at a boiling point in that state.

The new immigration law in Arizona makes it illegal for immigrants to be in the state — regardless of whether you're just trailing through it — without proper documentation. Police can question your immigration status only if it is part of a larger investigation, say, you were stopped for speeding or failing to yield to a pedestrian.

So if you weren't born here, and you don't have your papers, things could get interesting.

But there's good news!

Thanks to changes made to the law made last week by Gov. Jan Brewer, police cannot pull you over just because you look the part. So a brown person like me should be able to get away scot-free.

But some in the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union say police are going to start looking for even the slightest infraction to pull you over, at that point making it legal and obligatory for police to ask you for your papers.

"It doesn't deter anything," Dan Pochoda, legal director of the Arizona ACLU, told CNN last week. "It's not a serious hurdle."

Now back to the conversation I was having with my dad earlier this week. He'll be traveling to Arizona this weekend to pick up my brother from college. He'll be traveling there alone for about six hours. In our family, we like to kid around about things like immigration, the killings in Juarez, or the latest rhetoric by Hugo Chavez, because most of these things are absurd to us, and making light of them is our way of coping or making sense of them.

So my dad asked me if he should take his papers with him. Although he is a naturalized citizen, there is a sense of worry in our camp that he might get into some trouble.

So sure, I told him, take your papers, or else you'll end up in Tijuana, I told him.

"It's easy to forget how close we are to the issue ourselves," the Rev. Jon Barta wrote to me in an e-mail this week. "One of my grandmothers was an immigrant; on another side of the family, my great-great grandfather was an immigrant."

So what does religion have to do with all this, since this is a religion column, after all? Well, religion is about tolerance and acceptance, no matter who you are.

Any law that passes in this country is examined and a figure given to it on just how accepting and tolerant it is. Most of the time, that number tends to be zero.

Cardinal Roger Mahony launched a blog this week called Faces of Immigrants, a series of personal conversations the cardinal has had with immigrant men and women. It is, I believe, the only such website of its kind made by a high-ranking leader of the church in all of the United States.

In his blog, the cardinal tries to put a face to the immigrants entering this country, immigrants we sometimes simply — and easily — dust off our shoulders

"Instead of being sidetracked by heated rhetoric and political posturing, all of us should take the time to open our minds and hearts to hear the actual stories of the immigrants themselves," Mahony writes. "Who are they? Why are they here? How is our current immigration system failing them? How do their experiences impact our local communities and our nation?

"[We] can put a human face on these brothers and sisters — rather than reprimand them with judgmental rhetoric."

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