I use blogging to think-out-loud. I find it helpful to put thoughts to paper, even if I later change my thoughts. It’s therapeutic. The following thought was sparked by something someone said at a conference I recently attended. I don’t remember what the person said, or the context in which he said it. The only thing I remember is the thought it prompted in my mind.
Here is the thought: Is history repeating itself in the immigration (legal & illegal) controversy our country is presently experiencing?
Here is what I mean.
In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. When he landed in the New World, people were already here. It was their land. Columbus was not invited. He was the immigrant. (I will let you decide if he were legal or illegal. I don’t really think it matters.) Some 128 years later, the Pilgrims arrived. It is estimated that the population of Native Americans before European contact was somewhere between 12 and 50 million. (Considering the population in the U.S. today is around 311 million, I tend to go for the lower end of the pre-European contact. Either way, it’s a lot of people and a healthy size population.) Four centuries later, the Native American population was a little over 200,000. (More than a 95% decrease no matter what number you use.) Those who were not killed were rounded up and put on reservations. This was truly a dark time in U.S. history. Talk to any Native American today, and you will learn they still carry the scares of oppression.
Then, in the early formation of our country, we brought a large number of immigrants to the U.S. from Africa to be slaves. It has been estimated that between 1500 and 1800, somewhere between 1 and 12 million Africans were captured and sold into slavery. (Again, that’s a big range, but it is hard to estimate because no one knows for sure how many people died on route to the States.) Slavery was outlawed after the Civil War, but it would take another 100 years before the Civil Rights movement. And now, 50 plus years later, a lot of our social problems can be traced back to this bleak time in our history. Today, using any scale you choose, the two groups of people in our country who struggle the most are Native Americans and African Americans.
We are a great country! We have been blessed! We have done a lot of good! I am proud to be an American! We have stood on the right side of history on a host of issues, but we were wrong in our dealings with Native Americans and African slaves. (Not to mention Japanese-Americans during the WWII, and anti-Semitism shown toward Catholics and Jews in the early part of the 1900s.)
We have been blessed in spite of us, not because of us. Our record on immigration issues (including our own immigration from Europe) has not been that great. When we have acted out of fear and ignorance the results have been bad laws and bad policies. Then, as time goes by, we have realized we were wrong and have had to apologize.
Now we are facing another immigration issue, mainly from our southern border. In my opinion (and it only my opinion) it seems we are acting out of fear instead of reason. I am afraid we may look back on this time in history and realize we have once again made a mistake by how we treated “strangers in the land.”
I do not claim to be an expert on immigration issues, and I don’t live in a border town. I know we can’t open our borders wide and simply allow everyone, for whatever reason, to come in. But neither can we build a fence (literally or figuratively) and shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. We need to remember that the same fence (figuratively or literally) that keeps people out also keeps people in.
My concern is not so much political as it is spiritual. My concern is how we treat immigrants (legal or illegal) who are already here, especially non-white Hispanics. Jesus was asked who our neighbors where. I think His answer would be the same regardless if our neighbors were legal or illegal. The labels legal and illegal immigrants are political labels. There is no such thing as an illegal human being. Our responsibility to love our neighbors doesn’t have the qualifier “legal” or “illegal.”
My concern comes out of a few verses of Scripture:
Leviticus 19:33-34 – “When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt. I am God, your God.”
Matthew 25:31-46 – The Sheep and the Goats. This passage is too long to post, but twice (v. 38 and v. 43) Jesus refers to “strangers.” In both places “strangers” refer to people who were vulnerable because they were not “from around here.” The “strangers” are part of the “least of these,” and Jesus says how we treat “strangers” is how we treat Him. In some small (but not insignificant) way, how we treat “strangers” determines if we are sheep or goats.
I have a friend from South America who pastors a Hispanic church in my town. He knows I teach at a community college and so one day he asked me about tuition costs. He went on to explain that a family in his church had a daughter that was close to graduating from high school. This girl was incredibly bright and dreamed of being a nurse, maybe even a doctor. The family, however, could not afford to send her to a university.
I informed him that community colleges were reasonable, but there were all kinds of scholarships for people in her situation. He then went on to explain that the girl had been in the United States since she was a baby, but her family was undocumented. They did not want to fill out any “governmental” forms for scholarships out of fear they would be deported. Their goal was to try and pay cash for her education.
I don’t know if applying for scholarships would have resulted in deportation or not. But I do know there is something not quite right about a girl who has lived in our country her entire life, and who could be a contributing member of our society, not being able to fulfill her dream out of fear. Here is a girl who could be a self-supporting member of our society but instead will be regulated to low-wage jobs and governmental assistance.
Let the politicians argue over what to do with the immigration issue. Regardless of their legal or illegal standing, God has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
My prayer is that this time we get the immigration issue in our country right.