Sunday, August 28, 2016

Walls, Welcome, Mercy, Law

On the road to Croatia, Stuart Sia, Save the Children
The world is on the move, with more migrants than ever before, crossing borders, deserts, seas in
search of safety, food, water, opportunity, or the chance to reunite their families.

While those journeys start far away, the causes of the journeys are often close at hand: agricultural policies that have shifted whole people groups from their ancestral lands or priced out small scale farmers; weapons sales escalating ancient conflicts; extractive industries forcing removal of villages; sea-level rise flooding island nations and coastal cities around the globe.

I listen with great sadness to the political posturing around deportation or the fabled wall to protect our southern border.  

This fear and hatred of the immigrant: will it ever end?

On this continent, WE are the immigrant. All of us except the tiny percentage of remaining pure-blood Native Americans.

We would do well to keep that reality in mind. As Exodus instructs: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land ” (Exodus 22:21)

My own earliest US ancestor was a pre-Revolution Welsh shipping clerk who sold alcohol to native Americans in port cities from Philadelphia to New Amsterdam to Albany. Parts of the family continued on to Canada, not to return until sometime in the 20th century, traveling unchecked over the border in both directions.

Another ancestor arrived in Ellis Island in 1903, with no papers to his name (he was three) and no documentation beyond point of departure. Another arrived from Ireland in 1914. He married a Swedish girl born in North Dakota.

Legal immigrants? Given the laws of the time, that wasn’t hard to accomplish. Early laws excluded Chinese, “lunatics,” or those visibly contagious. Beyond that, the rules were loose until sometime after my relatives arrived. None of them had birth certificates, passports or other papers. None of them were deported, or made to wait months in detention camps.

Our current route to legal entry is very different: confusing, restrictive and in many ways far out of step with the dangerous realities so many migrants are fleeing.

A chart created by Reason magazine gives some idea of the daunting maze facing anyone hoping to join our great nation (click on the chart to read it in a new window). For most of our relatives, if they tried to enter now, the answer would be “Sorry, you’re out of luck.” Wait time? For some years, or decades. For others, “approaching infinity.”

According to Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The word translated “stranger” could also be foreigner, alien, sojourner. In Greek it's translated “xenos”, the root of our word “xenophobia”: fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or anything strange or foreign.

Read through the history of our immigration laws and trace our xenophobic roots. Outright bans on Chinese, then Asians, quotas for “less desirable” nationalities, even now discussion of different rules for people of certain backgrounds or religions. Attempts to reform inadequate laws have been stalled for decades, as farmers struggle to find seasonal workers and children seeking safety wait in limbo in crowded detention camps.

Christians have always wrestled with the challenge of unjust laws that oppose the demands of righteousness. Quakers smuggled escaped slaves; German Christians hid Jewish neighbors. Today, many congregations befriend and aide undocumented immigrants living in fear of deportation.

Child Migration Continues
Yes, we have laws. But when we balance law and mercy, which should win?

In puzzling over this, I came across a conversation hosted in 2010 by the Patheos Cross Examination series. Nine Christian leaders were invited to share their thoughts on illegal immigration and deportation. Unfortunately, links to the full conversation are no longer working. Mark D. Roberts, Presbyterian pastor and professor at Fuller Seminary, summarized posts by all participants, with his own observations and questions on each. 

The discussion, though long, is worth reading and considering, as is Roberts’ discussion, near the end, about how it’s possible for Christians to start from such different points of view and draw such conflicting conclusions.

If we start from loyalty to law, then deportation seems a reasonable solution. But we still might ask: have we ever broken a law? Does the punishment in this case fit the supposed crime?

If we start from a place of economic concern, then research might be the best response: economic analysis shows that immigrants, legal or not, help our economy thrive, and every immigrant, legal or not, pays taxes that exceed services gained.  The Economic Policy Institute offers a roundup of research and concludes
[t]o the extent there is something to fear, it stems from not providing legal status to unauthorized immigrants, and from guestworker programs where workers have limited rights and are tied to one employer. A useful framework for thinking about this is that any situation where workers’ individual bargaining power is reduced is going to put downward pressure on their wages, and therefore also on the wages of workers in similar occupations and industries. . . .
There is a fairly broad consensus that the present value of the long-run net fiscal impact of unauthorized immigration, at all levels of government combined, is small but positive—meaning that immigration reduces overall budget deficits. . . .
Unauthorized immigrants are a net positive for public budgets because they contribute more to the system than they take out.
If we start from a place of fear, would it help to read that economic policy report? Or would more information about the vetting process for refugees  or about crime rates for immigrants help put that fear in perspective? And what of instructions to “fear not”? If perfect love cast out fear, would love of the stranger quiet our concern?
When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land . . . . (Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22 )
Mark Roberts suggests we might start in Genesis: with the knowledge that we’re made in the image of God. Not just those who look most like us. Not just those who speak our language.
If all human beings bear the image of God and therefore are to be treated with dignity, then this surely includes those who are in the United States illegally. So called “illegal aliens” are, first and foremost, sacred beings created in God’s own image. Thus they, like all of humanity, should be regarded as sacred and treated with respect.
Another starting point, also from Genesis, is the vision of fruitfulness, or human flourishing.
Those who “take the side” of undocumented workers often speak as if they care mainly or exclusively about the fruitfulness of these people. Those who are concerned about the well-being of the United States often seem to care about the fruitfulness of our citizens to the exclusion of others. A biblical perspective, I believe, inspires us to shape a world in which all peoples in the Americas (and beyond) would have the opportunity to live truly fruitful lives.
Beyond these starting points stands the teaching of Jesus:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matt 25:31-40).
Notice who is included among those who received tangible acts of love: the stranger. The Greek word translated as “stranger” here is xenos, which can also mean “foreigner.” It denotes someone who is an outsider, who doesn’t belong. Jesus identifies with the xenos to such an extent that welcoming the xenos is welcoming Jesus himself.
In the parable we know as “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus paints a picture of the archetypal xenos (from the first-century Jewish point of view) who loves another xenos, and thus becomes a model for all who would follow Jesus. In the kingdom of God, that which divides people from people fall away, replaced by love that knows no national or ethnic boundaries.
Starting points shape our understanding.

So do end points.

What’s our goal?

Strong nation?

Robust economy?

Just society?

Obedience to the call of compassion?

When candidates offer to round up illegals, deport millions, build bigger walls, what grid do we use to evaluate the vision?

When we offer those words to God in prayer, what answer are we given?

Dear God, our journey through life is long and hard.
We cannot make this trip alone; we must walk together on the journey.
You promised to send us a helper, your Spirit.
Help us to see your Spirit in those you send to journey with us.

In the refugee family, seeking safety from violence,
    Let us see your Spirit.
In the migrant worker, bringing food to our tables,
    Let us see your Spirit.
In the asylum-seeker, seeking justice for himself and his family,
    Let us see your Spirit.
In the unaccompanied child, traveling in a dangerous world,
    Let us see your Spirit.

Teach us to recognize that as we walk with each other, you are present.
Teach us to welcome not only the strangers in our midst
    but the gifts they bring as well:
    the invitation to conversion, communion, and solidarity.
This is the help you have sent: we are not alone.
We are together on the journey, and for this we give you thanks.


This post is part of a series on What's Your Platform
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016 
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections, August 10, 2016 
How Long Will the Land Lie Parched? August 21, 2016 
Other posts on immigration: 
About that Banner Photo, November 11, 2011
Epiphany and Philoxenia: Entertaining Angels, January 4, 2015