Immigration – Legal & Illegal

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.

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10 thoughts on “Immigration – Legal & Illegal

  1. I’m product of both slavery and native Americans. One German ancestor was pressed into service and sold to England to be a “Hessian” Mercenary in the Revolutionary war, and I was raised on tales of Black Granny who claimed to be white when the census takers came around in Oklahoma because she remembered that shortly before the trail of tears, the census takers had come around asking questions.

    We’re all from somewhere. It should be obvious that the current system is broken and desperately needs to be changed. These are for the most part good people who want to make good lives for themselves. These are the people we want in America. When I look at a generation of Jersey Shores and Paris Hiltons, I’ll take an illegal any day.

  2. I agree with your line of thought. My question is: if we don’t have a thought-through opinion about what to do about immigration and the presence of undocumented aliens, how will we know if the politicians get it right?

    • That’s a great question Ken. If I knew the answer I would be in politics and not ministry. I will have to give it more thought, but it would have to include treating people with dignity and respect and recognize that even though they have broken the law, they are not necessarily “criminals.” You know what it is like in other countries. Before the sunrises a line starts to form around the US Embassy with people wanting to come to the States legally. That line circles around the building and parking lot. A relatively few will get in the building at all. Fewer still will talk to someone, and fewer still will get approved. If anyone did that day after day after day, and then was approached by someone telling them another, illegal, way to get to the States, you would do it. This doesn’t make it right, but if you have seen those lines (and I know you have) then you know what I am talking about.

      Anyway, something that treats people with dignity and respect; something that doesn’t allow Deputy Bubba the authority to start the deportation process because someone had a tail light out; and something that allows the girl in my example the opportunity to go to college. I think those are at least places to start.

      Thanks for your comments.

  3. I do agree with you that we need to be careful about how we treat “strangers”. I think that we have a Biblical directive to give a cup of cold water and even offer warm shelter if the situation dictates it. It would make a huge difference for some of those people if they weren’t being ripped off and marginalized.

    However, our government has the responsibility to provide for our common defense. They are responsible for enforcing the law. And the law is you can’t just walk into the USA and start doing what you want. Immigrants have a responsibility to abide by our laws if they want to be a part of our country. I think there is a biblical principle there as well. How can we trust them with the larger issues if we can’t trust them to follow the most basic of laws?

    I speak as a man who has been through this process. My wife became a US citizen this year. We had to go through the system. Those who refuse to go through the system and are given a free ride into this country through a DREAM act or whatever insult me as a man who abided by the law. At the same time, laws that are enacted to deport will only hurt the honest ones because they are the ones who are trying to do what is right, and sometimes you mess it up. On top of which, this family that seeks to send their daughter to college will be spending more in a semester for college than they would to become legal. There is a great amount of grace built into the system. It is not cheap, but if a pastor like myself who lives on the lower end of the spectrum financially can cut it, they can as well.

    And I think this is the importance of church and state. The church should be a place of shelter for people who need it. I don’t think churches should be a part of this deal other than to offer help and advice (Catholic Charities helped us get started in the process). But the government has a responsibility to find, capture, and execute justice upon those who break the law. Even if that means a girl doesn’t get to go to college. If they obeyed the law, this wouldn’t even be an issue. If they obeyed the law, they would find that they didn’t have to live in the shadows, but they could live freely as they should in the USA.

    Just my thoughts.

    • Well said Scott. I think you and I are on the same page about how the church should be there to provide “a cup of cold water” and let the government take care of the other issues.

  4. Hi ,
    I enjoyed your post. We have similar problems here in the UK; since the exspansion of the EU we have had an influx of Eastern Europeans some of whom are very poor. All here legally as we are all Europeans with free movement between countries. You make an execllent point that as Christians we have to remember how Christ would treat these strangers, with love and respect.

  5. One of my favorite recent quips is that Native Americans probably wish they had a system of issuing Visas and doing background checks prior to the arrival of the Europeans. There is in place a method of immigrating into this country legally, although it is sometimes onerous. Violating the U.S. border is an illegal act, therefore an ‘undocumented worker,’ is a criminal. Stemming from that is a blossoming level of additional behaviors resulting in the sort of actions such as those that the State of Alabama took, which tend to profit nobody.
    By the way, to really fuzz things up, aren’t we, as Christians, ‘strangers and aliens’ ourselves?

  6. Pingback: Top Social Justice Issues | Floods of Justice

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