The Common Good

For True Civility in Arizona, The Walls Must Come Down

The shooting in Tucson, Arizona has spurred numerous 'calls for civility' in the heated political tension of Arizona and beyond. While I resonate with the idea, I wonder if we truly know the meaning of this phrase both in word and deed.

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Civility for Arizona, in the sense of bi-partisan progress, has translated into the political compromise of unprecedented border enforcement and walls, also leading to record migrant deaths and human rights violations in the Tucson sector.

Just days before the shooting in Tucson, a teenager was shot while scrambling over the border wall, tumbling back to the Mexico side where he died; the gunman was a Border Patrol agent. Humanitarians held a memorial service on a treacherous desert path, remembering the unknown and precious lives of two bodies found by volunteers in recent months. And currently, 300 miles of new border fence is being proposed in the U.S. Senate. But events like these have become regular occurrences for residents of the borderlands, accompanied by blips of media attention and small vigils by activists and pastors.

In fact, we are so entrenched in this violence, which is rationalized away as national security, that perhaps the tables have turned and the 'civilized' resemble more and more the derangement that we blame.

The Latin root of the word 'civility' goes beyond courtesy to mean 'a member of the household,' and involves the standards of decency in society that promote peaceful coexistence for all residents. True civility was taught with every step that Jesus took, from inviting the poor to sit at the table of plenty to mandates that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus also understood that those claiming to be the most 'civilized' while out-casting the deranged or society's 'illegals' were often the furthest from understanding coexistence.

Faith-based and immigrant rights groups in Arizona recently posted a Call to Civility for All of Arizona's Residents, which reflects the deeper meaning of the word in our deeds:

In this spirit, the coalition of groups here today is united in calling on Arizona's lawmakers to honor the calls for civility in politics by extending that civility to all of the residents of Arizona. Please, suspend all bills aimed at undocumented Arizonans for this legislative session, including attempts to undermine birthright citizenship, deny children public education, and otherwise harm our families here in Arizona.

Indeed, this commitment to civility should lead to nothing but a polite and courteous collapse of our violent borders, both literally and in spirit. My prayer for Tucson and the borderlands is civility, in the truest sense.

Maryada Vallet works with No More Deaths, a humanitarian initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border, which promotes faith-based principles for immigration reform.

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