Aaron Spiegel: Why is Indiana still unfriendly for immigrant neighbors?

With 2023 coming to an end, it’s worth taking a moment of reflection for the year passed. As a religious leader, I understand my place in humanity by my religious perspective.

The Christian Bible gives us the concept of the “least among us” as the most important. The Torah says you shall love the stranger as yourself. The Quran says to give wealth to relatives, orphans, the needy, and the traveler. Based on these admonitions, we have a long way to go.

Migration Institute’s data indicate that more than 397,000 individuals in Indiana report being foreign-born (2021). Further, from 2000-2021, Indiana experienced more than 100% population change for individuals who are foreign-born. While 38% of these individuals are of Latino origin, it is notable that those from Asia and Africa are increasingly among those who call Indiana home.

Immigrants are likelier to participate in the workforce; those who are 16 years and older make up more than 6% of state’s workforce. Their economic impact is also demonstrated by entrepreneurship, jobs in healthcare and other STEM fields, as well as hospitality and logistics. In 2017, immigrants paid $2.6 billion in local, state, and federal taxes.

Despite their contributions, Indiana has passed legislation that bars foreign-born individuals without lawful status from accessing a driver’s license, in-state tuition, and protections against predatory housing practices to name a few. Our immigrant brothers and sisters, many of whom come to Indiana to escape horrific conditions, live in poverty because of the systems we’ve created to prevent them from thriving.

The data is clear that immigrants are the most vulnerable to abuse by predatory landlords and homelessness. We forbid undocumented immigrants from getting a driver’s license, forcing them to break the law to feed their families. And without that identification, they’re unable to get the most basic social services.

In her recent book “The Sum Of Us,” economist Heather McGhee points out that, “… we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm — the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others.” And yet, despite our faith tradition’s cautions to the contrary, we continue to promote the narrative that by giving to others we lose out for ourselves.

Every religious tradition affirms that the divine resides in each of us. That includes all our neighbors regardless of where they are from, legal status, ability to speak English, or life circumstances. Each of them deserves the “dignity of inestimable worth.”

Let’s hope that in 2024, Indiana can advance policies that support our immigrant neighbors, make them feel welcomed, and thrive.

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is executive director of the Greater Indianapolis Multifaith Alliance (GIMA) and a board member of Immigrant Welcome Center. This commentary previously appeared at indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected].