Remembering what this country once valued

new-colossusIt’s engraved on the Statue of Liberty:

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Returning America to its former values means making this a country that once again welcomes the oppressed peoples of other lands.

Don’t give in to xenophobia

xenophobiaXenophobia is literally the fear of foreigners. The term also includes irrational dislike of those from other countries, prejudice against those who aren’t our countrymen. It’s a condition that has existed since the dawn of time.

In today’s America, xenophobia is in full bloom. We’re scared of foreign terrorists. We’re worried about illegal immigrants. We’re afraid of refugees.

As Christians, we can’t give in. If we do, we end up hating ourselves, for Christians are foreigners wherever we live in this world. We of all people must be compassionate and understanding toward those not like ourselves.

  • We can protect ourselves against terrorism without hating entire nations of people or harassing those who don’t practice our religion. (And there’s been no evidence of terrorists entering the U.S. via our southern border. There’s been no known cases of terrorists among the refugees that have come to this country. Don’t believe the lies you hear in political ads and speeches)
  • We can address a broken immigration system without forgetting that immigrants are people, people like us, most of whom come seeking a better life for their families. Some are murderers, rapists, and drug dealers. So are many citizens of the United States. Go ahead and hate the problem; don’t hate the people that are a part of it.
  • We can show caution in accepting refugees even while showing Christlike compassion. Hospitality is a Christian virtue; it’s interesting that the word in Greek is philonexia, quite literally “a friend of foreigners.”

Don’t give into xenophobia. It’s the very opposite of everything we stand for as Christians.

How long have immigration laws been around?

law booksMy writing last week about a theology of foreignness has sparked some conversation about immigration law. From what I can tell, the first true immigration law in the United States was passed in 1882, designed to limit (and temporarily prohibit) Chinese immigration. Before that, it seems that laws were only made as to who could become a citizen.

I’m having trouble finding much about immigration controls in other countries. There are records, going back to biblical times, of the expulsion of certain people groups or of the enslavement of others. I’ve heard that the Romans controlled the movements of people to some degree, with Roman citizenship granting freer travel. I know that Mexico unsuccessfully tried to limit colonization of its northern lands, what is now the southern U.S. That seems to refer to homesteading and the granting of property, not the mere presence within the country.

Am I wrong to think that immigration laws as we know them are a relatively new thing? Can someone point me to better sources of information?

Why the curiosity? Partly because of the people who proudly boast: “Our ancestors came here legally.” (And I’m sure they inquired about native American immigration laws before doing so!) Another part is the idea of what the Bible has to say about immigration laws. Directly speaking, I say it says nothing, for such didn’t seem to exist at those times. Or am I mistaken?

Anyway, some of you are much better than I at researching historical facts. Please point me to the resources that will enlighten me on this subject.

image courtesy of MorgueFile.com

It’s time to reach out to immigrants

boleroIf I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that some type of immigration reform is coming soon, particularly regarding Latinos. I may be wrong; the political extremists have torpedoed many a thing that seemed like a done deal. But with so many reports signaling the Hispanic vote as what doomed the GOP this past election, the political will to get something done seems to be there.

Again, let me encourage churches to get ahead of the curve. Those churches that reached out to immigrants during Reagan’s amnesty program are the ones that today are making important inroads into the Latino community. Lay aside your political feelings and think about the ministry possibilities. This could well be the critical time.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Offer ESL classes. Contrary to what some seem to think, most immigrants are very interested in learning English. There are programs available to help Christians reach out in this way. A couple that come to mind are FriendSpeak and World English Institute.
  • Offer immigration counseling. This can be tricky, as undocumented immigrants can be hesitant about identifying themselves as such. Still, many churches have had success with such programs.
  • Teach your members the ins and outs of dealing with immigrants. You can find some good resources at g92.org. There is also a seven-session discussion course built around the book Welcoming The Stranger. I also know that World Relief offers training for churches.
  • Consider sponsoring someone in your church to be certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Board recognition allows non-profit organizations to offer immigrant legal services without being immigration attorneys. Again, World Relief offers 40-hour, week long intensive introduction to immigration law; I’m sure other groups offer similar programs.

As I said, this could be a crucial time in the history of the church in the United States. The Hispanic population is only going to grow. The church can either grow or diminish accordingly.

Immigration stats

Migrant workers' childrenIn today’s “Links to Go,” I include an article showing how immigration enforcement has increased over the last few years. The numbers are a bit deceiving, since this includes all of the duties of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Still, since Obama took office, the deportation rate has drastically increased. 2012 hit a record high of deportations.

I’ve been open about my opposition to our current immigration laws, and my support for drastic immigration reform. Beyond the spiritual motivations, I’m going to share in the next few days some practical reasons why Christians should get behind such efforts.

So, I find these numbers a bit discouraging. Especially when I can put names to some of the numbers, people dear to me who have been caught up in the immigration quagmire.

Yet studying the facts, I did find something encouraging: most of the deportations have been of criminals. That hasn’t always been true. In 2008, only 33% of those deported fell into that category; in 2012, it was up to 55%. Most other categories have remained the same (repeat offenders, border removals, immigration fugitives). The category that means the most to me has shown marked improvement. In 2008, 25% of those deported were “non-priority cases,” which often means ordinary people who come here to work; in 2012, that was only 4% of all deportations. (Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Deporting criminals is exactly what the government should be doing. Deporting people who have come in the way that most of our ancestors did… that needs to stop. Let’s tighten our borders, while providing a way for those that want to work to be able to do so legally.