Fred Otto, who preaches at the staunchly conservative Church of the Nazarene in Bisbee, Arizona, says that according to the Bible we are all immigrants — all aliens — on this earth. “There’s a lot of language in the Bible about remembering the aliens and remembering the sojourner,” he says. So it’s no surprise that Otto cares deeply about the way immigrants are treated in Arizona. “When I listen to the political conversation, not only through the media but just listening in restaurants and casual conversations, there’s this us-and-them sense,” he says. “Being a part of the faith community, you don’t like seeing people mistreated. I don’t think that that’s the correct testimony of who we are.”
But it’s not just negative conversation around immigration that bothers Otto. It’s policy. Border checkpoints exist in the areas around southern Arizona, and to him they’re an ongoing inconvenience. “I don’t like driving through them,” he says. “For me to drive north, I have to drive through a checkpoint, with border agents looking at me and seeing whether or not I should be checked out for citizenship. … I guess after living for 25 years in foreign countries, I have an interest in how foreigners are treated.”
Being a part of the faith community, you don’t like seeing people mistreated. I don’t think that that’s the correct testimony of who we are.
Otto has traveled extensively over the course of his life. After college in Pueblo, Arizona, and four years in the U.S. Army, Otto became a missionary. “We lived in Swaziland and Kenya, Ghana, Liberia, and South Africa,” Otto recalls. In addition to decades spent immersing himself in many cultures and traditions, Otto’s diverse interests have also given him a unique perspective. “I’ve got a degree in physics and a master’s in Christian education, and I’m a pastor,” he explains. “I see things sometimes a little different than others do.” Referring to his work in the military as a systems analyst, he says, “I often see things in a systems way: That you don’t ever look at one thing in isolation, so when I hear, ‘We will talk about immigration reform as soon as we secure the border,’ I realize that that’s a totally unrealistic view of the world. The issues are so interrelated. If there’s not a line, you can’t tell people to go get in the line. And if there’s not a reasonable way of immigrating, you’ll never secure the border. … In our environment today we don’t want to have a complex conversation; we want very simplistic answers and they’re not simple issues.”
For all of these reasons, Otto believes in immigration reform. “Most Americans are descendants of immigrants,” he says, and the next newcomers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. And as a former military man, he believes that reform is the best way to ensure the future strength of the United States. “The U.S. ought to be more of a global force,” he says. To do that, “we need to deal with immigrants better.”