The Stranger in our Midst

The people of God have long been a wandering people.  The Old Testament is filled with directives concerned with the way the alien is to be treated -- because they had been strangers in a strange land.  From the Torah we hear this directive:

33When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34The 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 of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  (Leviticus 19:33-34)
It is in the light of passages such as this that we must hear and consider the debates in this land concerning immigration.  Immigration reform has been stalled for years, in large part because there simply is not the political will to get done what must be done.  The parties are too polarized and thus we find ourselves stalled and the problem worsens. 

It is in that context that the state of Arizona has taken matters into their own hands and enacted a new law that gives the police almost unlimited powers to stop and question a person, whom they might deem to be illegally in the country.  What they have done is criminalize being present in the country without proper documentation.  The possibilities of misuse and abuse of the law are endless.  While nativist sentiment fuels this movement in part, there are a lot of other factors involved as well.  I my mind no good can come of this law.  It will only exacerbate the problem. 

Now, having lived for much of the past 30 years in Southern California (until my recent move to Michigan), I understand the complexities of the issues facing Arizona.  Due to an unwillingness on the part of Congress to address immigration issues, the states bordering Mexico have become increasingly agitated about the costs and dangers of dealing with immigration issues.  Immigration issues impact hospitals, schools, housing stock, crime, and more.  People are exploited for economic gain. 

Although border states must deal most directly with immigration related issues, it's important that we all contribute to them.  Our desire for cheap labor and cheap goods, combined with business interests wanting to make the most profit, has led to the increased use of undocumented immigrant labor.  Undocumented workers don't tend to be unionized, don't complain about hours or pay, will work in less than savory conditions -- but often pay taxes, including Social Security (for benefits they'll never claim).  As for the illegal drug trade -- we fuel this by our insatiable demand for drugs.  It is obvious that the "war on drugs" has failed, and that the demand from the north keeps the drugs flowing.   If immigration reform is to happen, we must take responsibility for our own actions.

So, as an op-ed in the Arizona Republic suggests, Arizona has taken on the aura of a police state.  The people of Arizona recognize that civil liberties are at stake, but they don't seem to care.  And, the likelihood is that a rather extreme sort of leadership likely will come to the fore in Arizona.  Similar movements could emerge in other states -- including California. 

So what do we do?  Jim Wallis has called for churches to not cooperate.  Some are calling for a boycott of Arizona.  But, perhaps the best thing we can do is push for Congress to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform that is fair and just, that recognizes that you can't simply move 11 million (whatever the current number) of people out of the country.  Many of these families have children who have lived all their lives in the states.  For all intents and purposes they are as "American" as I am, only they lack the proper papers.  Businesses also must come clean and obey the law -- as a commentator on NPR said yesterday, if there are no jobs people won't be moving north.

Let us reason together on this and come up with an equitable solution. 

1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-2)


Gary said…
The liberal "solution" pushed by the likes of Cornwall, Wallis, and Obama will not solve the problem, only make it worse.

The solution lies in sealing the borders, making it impossible for illegals to be employed by implementing heavy fines on any business found to have hired illegals, denying social services to illegals(schooling, medical care, welfare, etc.), and changing the law that allows citizenship for merely being born in America. The time when that law made sense is long past.

I have no confidence that the government will do anything that will actually fix the problem, or help the country.
David Mc said…
What is Cornwall's solution Gary? He only described the unfairness of the situation. You seem to agree on several points. Greed keeps things from being changed. Take the profit out of crime and the problems could solve themselves. Fines for big corporations exploiting the situation and abolishing drug laws.

Above all, a little compassion for those caught in the middle should be in order.

Perhaps your correct. Smuggling a fetus into the country maybe shouldn't be grounds for granting it citizenship. What if it's conceived here? That's more romantic. anyway.

We are the government Gary. Give us all some credit.

Excellent Bible quotes by the way Bob.
Gary said…

Part of the Cornwall/Wallis/Obama solution is to legalize everyone who is now here illegally. I am very much against that.

I do not believe they will do anything to keep any new people from coming in illegally. They pretty much believe in open borders. Or no borders.
Allan R. Bevere said…
Great post, Bob!

This is one issue on which you and I are in complete agreement.
John said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said…

You start out your piece with the observation and quote that Scripture calls for a high regard for aliens in the land because the Jews were once aliens in another land.

Are we not all aliens in this world, always? God's people on this earth are in a spiritual exodus, wandering in the desert, waiting on God to make good on God's promises to us - to lead us home and ultimately into a more perfect unity with the Creator.

As God's people, aware of our journey, and of the inhospitality of the desert around us, do we not have a special insight into the life of the lost, the life of the alien? Moreover, because we Christians live our lives built on the HOPE of Christ, we have a special reason for gratitude, and thus a special reason to be welcoming to strangers and aliens among us?

As such do we not have a sacred obligation to seek out ways to embrace the alien - and not to be rounding them up, throwing them out, and sealing up our borders against them? Does God wish us to treat our land as a prison?

I don't know what the answer is, but in my heart, as a child of God I know God's solution involves engagement and not exclusion.

What's more, faith issues aside, as an American, having been thoroughly schooled in the American ethos of "give us your poor...," and all the goodness and generosity and unbounded optimism which that ethos encompasses, I cannot accept a solution that involves exclusion and mass deportation.

As a lawyer and a student of history, I cannot tolerate a solution which turns our police into a Gestapo force (not Gestapo like, but actual Gestapo) empowered to seek out the new 'Jews', arrest whomever they suspect, put the arrested on a trains, and send them away - all because they don't have the right papers on their person!! I don't doubt that our neo-Gestapo has the right to seize the outcasts' assets as property of the state. I wonder if we will not soon see photos of gold rings and other relics taken from the despised outcasts.

All because we blame them for the economic ills which now beset our nation.

This new Arizona law is intolerable on so many different levels!

David Mc said…
I'm sure there are many who are simply here to work, rather than to gain citizenship. Talk about a killer commute! Desperation and the determination to provide for loved-ones should be legitimized and made fair. Reagan essentially did a 4 million person amnesty 11-06-1986. We should do the same, but leave out the contractor loopholes.
Gary said…

What you are advocating is no national borders. Just one world where everyone is free to come and go as they please. I don't believe that is what God intended, and I would never agree to that.

Deporting someone who is in your country illegally is not mistreating them. If I tried to go live in Mexico illegally, they would not be violating my rights to deport me.
John said…

I said I didn't know what the solution should be, but that turning the police in Arizona into a 21st Century Gestapo was certainly not it.

As for how well you would tolerate your civil rights being stepped all over - I think you are not thinking this through. You of anyone on this blog seem aggressively protective of your rights.

What if you were a third or fourth generation Mexican American, dark skinned and fluent in Spanish? I highly doubt you would accept being regularly stopped and searched just because of your obvious ethnic origin, and I think you would go ballistic if you came close to getting unlawfully deported.

There is no easy answer, but a Gestapo strategy, impelled by economic distress and racial bigotry is certainly not an approach worthy of America.

John said…

You said: "I don't believe that is what God intended, and I would never agree to that."

What God intended? For whom? If American immigration policy is to be determined according to God's intentions, then whether you agree with it is irrelevant. If this policy is to be determined by reference to God's intentions then your only input into the discussion should be what you discern of God's intentions and how you went about the process of discernment.

If you get a vote on the policy then God's intentions are apparently irrelevant except in terms of how they influence your position.

Frankly, I think God gives us guidance in these matters (i.e., compassion and respect for each person's dignity and a consistent call for hospitality - not just from our abundance but even from our poverty). Ultimately however, our nation has to develop this policy governed by our Constitution, our core values, our prudence, and to the extent possible, our compassion.

Gary said…

God has no problem with national borders. He even told Israel what He intended for their borders to be. Which territory they are not yet living on, by the way.

I am willing to carry an i.d. to prove my citizenship. Given the problems we have with illegals, that has become necessary.

Requiring permission to enter or live in a foreign land is not mistreating anyone. I don't presume that I should be allowed to move to another country without their permission, no matter how much I might want to live there.

I have no problem with the Arizona law. I wish my state would pass the same law. If brown people are asked for their i.d.'s more than people whose skin is a different color, that is because most of the illegals are brown skinned. That is not the fault of the police.
Robert Cornwall said…

I need to push back a little here.

First, by your own admission, the People of God, who were promised a land to live in, were essentially "illegal aliens." Canaan was an inhabited land, which they took over. Now, you can justify this by saying that God gave it to them, but if you were a Canaanite you'd not appreciate this. Of course, the border regions, including Arizona, once belonged to Mexico and were annexed by the US through war.

Second, regarding being stopped by police. I'm assuming you're white, which means no one is going to stop and ask you for your papers. But, should you be of Hispanic background, you are liable to be stopped and asked for papers, even if your ancestors have lived in Arizona for generations, simply because the color of your skin, an accent, or primary language. If you were experiencing this on a daily basis, then you would not like this.

To protest this law doesn't mean I don't believe in borders. But it does mean that this solution is unjust and open to abuse.
Gary said…

God didn't care whether the Canaanites liked the Jews taking their land or not, and neither do I.

The Mexicans can have back the land we took from them, as soon as they beat us in a war.

If Canadians, or Swedes were the majority of illegals in the US, I would expect to be asked for proof of my legality much more than brown or black skinned people.

The Arizona law is not unjust. You are wrong. Again. As usual.
David Mc said…
According to police, 22 out of 373 tickets were issued to Hispanic drivers, or only 4.8 percent, while the law clinic’s analysis suggests it is 56.3 percent. They compared the names to those developed by the U.S. Census, as well as two academic sources.
Dim Lamp said…
Well done Bob. I am a Canuck, but recently I was listening to a mother corp (CBC) radio program on this very subject. Apparently there was someone in New York City who wrote a book on his experiences of working at labour jobs with illegal immigrants in picking lettuce and, in another place, processing chickens.
You are correct re. greed of North American consumers who demand cheap food and other products, which means labour costs must be lower. However, there is a tragic irony here--the illegal labourers do not think that they are being exploited (even though we likely do) because they are making more money in the U.S. than they would in Mexico, even though their wages are lower than most North Americans would work for.
I think one possible solution to the issue is to, as consumers, pay more for our food to ensure that those who produce it are treated fairly and given adequate compensation for their labour.
BTW, the chap who wrote the book said that he could not survive for long if he had to work at such jobs permanently, he also said the average life expectancy for such labourers is about 49 years.
We in our so-called democratic nations still support slave labour. To quote my favourite Canuck singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn, "Word mercy's gonna have a new meaning when we are judged by the children of our slaves."
Sorry for these rant-ramblings, I lament that I don't have any significant solutions to this delicate issue.
David Mc said…
Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking
John said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said…

Are you asking Bob to delete your , rather alien sounding posts, for our own protection?

If Hawkings is correct and we listen to him, for fear of the Borg we may cheat ourselves out of ever meeting Mr. Spock.

Seriously, I hardly think that Latinos, Jews, and Blacks represent the same kind of threat as the Borg.

The real threat is that in reaction to our fears we become something awful, and America becomes a place no one would want to live, even us.

Gary said…
I think this issue illustrates well that liberals and conservatives want different kinds of countries, and will never be happy living in a country run by their philosophical/religious opposites. A civil war in the US would not surprise me.
David Mc said…
No I didn't ask for any deletions. Gary, if you're advocating (un)civil war, maybe we should stop fraternizing? I propose a different kind of "tea party"- let's all smoke peace pipe and mellow out.
David Mc said…
Seriously, I suffered through the Bush years, not in silence, but I suffered. If the current issues are enough to start civil violence, it comes from those opposed to free expression and free elections. If the government passes immigration laws I oppose, I'm determined to be civil about it. Our nation still isn't perfect, but it should peaceably strive to be. Keep the faith we still have the right road map.

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