This speech was delivered by Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland at a press conference against House Bill 100 on June 28, 2016.
The Old Testament is filled with instructions on how the People of God are to treat those who come to their country from another place.
- Exodus 22:21 – “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” In other words, we all came from somewhere else, unless you count yourselves among that elite minority of the 1.6% of Native Americans who live in NC. And since most of us are in the 98.4%, we need to remember that we are all immigrants and we should never wrong or oppress any other immigrant.
- Leviticus 24:22 – “You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen.” In other words, not separate laws that divide us, not walls that separate us, but one law for all of us
- Deuteronomy 24:14 – “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.” In other words, pay people for their work in a fair and equitable way. All of them, documented or undocumented.
And then we hear these words from Jesus, who clearly differentiates between those who welcome the strangers among them and those who don’t. Matthew 25:35 – “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me…just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus equates welcoming the stranger to welcoming Jesus himself. What Christian would not welcome Jesus? The same one who does not welcome the stranger.
Friends, I realize we’re not all Christians here today, but I am, and so I’m going to talk to you from my location in that tradition. In the Christian tradition, God instructs us over and over again to welcome the stranger, treat the immigrant fairly, and make a place for the refugee among us; BECAUSE we were once strangers to God, immigrants to a new land, and refugees from a dangerous past.
For our purposes here today, I think the most important instruction we get is the one echoed throughout the scriptures to have the same laws for everybody, whether native or immigrant, whether born or naturalized, whether documented or undocumented—the same laws. When the same laws apply to everyone, law enforcement can do their job of protecting the vulnerable, arresting the offenders, and assuring the well-being of all. When the same laws apply to everyone, employers can do their job of paying a living wage, offering fair benefits, and providing a safe work environment.
HB 100 sets up a double standard and creates a shadow population. In this shadow population we have women fleeing abusive relationships, we have children afraid to go to school, we have workers forced to accept unfair wages. We are asking an entire group of people who work in our state, who attend our schools, and who enrich our lives to remain invisible and silent while contributing generously to our society. All this because there will be a double standard in North Carolina. One standard for those of us who were lucky enough to have ancestors who immigrated to this land when the laws were different and one standard for those who just got here. We were given the tools to succeed, but those tools will now be denied to others, others who have stories that are not so different from the stories of our ancestors, our lucky ancestors…
Not only does HB 100 set up a double standard, but it also requires all of us to report known violations of this double standard law. Local communities will lose funding, law enforcement agencies will lose discretion, and all of us will lose trust because we will live in the shadow of a law that creates a shadow population.
The North Carolina Council of Churches stands proudly on the side of the immigrant population of North Carolina. HB 100 is unfaithful to our beliefs. We will take our cues from scripture. We will oppose laws that make us complicit in unfaithful behavior. We will remain faithful to the God who called us out of places of oppression and gifted us with the opportunity to flourish into God’s good future.