Immigration is probably the hottest issue in America this month, and the inside back cover of this week's issue of WORLD is filled with a hot ad on this hot topic. "Minuteman Border Fence. Help Build It Now!" the headline screams.
The ad calls for individuals to build security fences on the land they own near the border. There's nothing legally wrong with that, and nothing ethically wrong with wanting to protect your own home. The ad calls for individuals to contribute money for fence-building. Nothing wrong with that, either.
Nevertheless, I don't like the ad. I'm all for individuals and small groups taking action-on another key concern, helping the poor, that's what compassionate conservatism is all about-but immigration is one of the few issues on which we need a national, political decision.
The Constitution instructs the federal government to "provide for the common defense," and we need to instruct our representatives to stop their earmark games-"this little piggy went to Congress"-and start paying attention to their constitutional duties.
I do believe that we should have a security fence along our border similar to the whiz-bang ones with physical and electronic barriers that I saw in Israel in March. Our southern border is much, much longer, but we can afford such a security fence and we must-or else in two decades the number of illegal immigrants will make the current figure of 12 million or so seem like a small problem.
Once we have made the national decision to build and staff such a barrier, we can then proceed to enact President Bush's compassionate plan for a guest worker program and a process for those already in the country to begin legalizing their status. But that program will work neither politically nor practically unless our borders are secured.
I don't think this private action by the Minutemen will help in the process. It might even delay a solution by making moderates (with the help of big media news-twisting) see a border security fence as a right-wing wacko activity that reasonable people should oppose.
Having said all that, I support running this ad for the same reason I've supported running ads for some nutritional products that I'm not fond of: I may be wrong. (I haven't liked "buy gold" ads, either, but those who responded to them last year are now sitting pretty, at least temporarily.)
Our editorial pages-including news and feature stories, columns, book and music charts, movie reviews, and short items-reflect a biblical worldview. The ad pages form a broader marketplace. As WORLD founder Joel Belz wrote in 1998, "In our editorial pages, we pledge never to tell you something we do not absolutely believe to be true. In our ads, we pledge never to print something we know to be false."
Sure, there's money involved. Sure, we don't have the time or resources to check out firsthand all the products. Yes, we reject some ads that make suspicious claims or engage in name-calling. But we philosophically, not just practically, enjoy marketplace variety. As long as ads don't make false claims, aren't aesthetically disruptive or overly goofy, aren't at fundamental odds with our bedrock philosophy, and are respectful in tone, WORLD has a presumption against censoring them.
We do make clear the separation between editorial and advertising. I normally do not see ads prior to publication; in this case, publisher Nick Eicher wanted my opinion on the Minuteman ad. Our advertising staff does not see editorial pages prior to publication. Some Christian publishers write us to say, "Let me know the issue you're going to run a review of our book, and we'll buy an ad in that issue." We regularly decline such arrangements. Any deal-on-the-side, where readers may not know what's going on, is out of bounds.
So what's out of bounds in an immigration debate that should be conducted without hatred or fear-mongering? WORLD will not run an ad that includes racist aspersions or makes statements we know to be false. But those who want to maintain our current porous-borders policy deserve to be heard, and they have numerous media megaphones. Those who want to build security fences also deserve to be heard.