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Isn't It Time For Compassionate Immigration Reform?

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Partisan attempts to utilize the immigration issue for political gain have failed.  Recent efforts to rush shoddy legislation into law have temporarily ended in futility.  Obviously this complex matter will require more time and much more thoughtful debate before workable solutions will be found. 


This issue has been a growing point of concern for years in our Mexican border states and Florida.  It has lately garnered high priority national attention with an unprecedented rabid fervor. 


GOP strategists have injected polarizing issues into elections in the recent past with winning results.  However, immigration reform has not been successfully used as a wedge issue.  None of the several legislative options hurriedly brought to the table in Washington clearly offered the comprehensive solutions lawmakers hoped for.  No proposals to date seem to resonate with the majority of Americans.  


Rhetoric with a harsh edge and laws with stiff stipulations was the common threads woven into all the legislative offerings considered.  They proposed various options of strident border enforcement combined with punishment of illegal immigrants and those who employ them.  President Bush’s inadequate proposal contained a form of amnesty and was by far the least harsh of all the recent choices.   It was subsequently scorned by most of the Republican faithful including much of the Christian Right.  

The inadequacy of all the recent proposals has resulted in legislative impasse.  It seems there is not enough collective wisdom in Washington to resolve this matter.  Could ancient texts from the Bible offer some wisdom and insight into this complex and thorny issue?  


Moses presented the Law to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the land of promise.  Contained within these vast volumes of commands were some very specific rulings regarding the treatment of strangers (aliens) who would arrive and live in their midst.  How these verses might translate into contemporary legislation is unclear, but they do clearly reveal God’s heart for this minority to be treated with loving mercy.  Compassion for the illegal immigrant has been the primary ingredient missing in the tone and content of recent debate and failed legislative attempts.


Exodus 22:21 (New International Version) 

21 "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt”


The Israelites left Egypt under the leadership of Moses and were reminded of their previous status of being unwanted aliens.   Egyptians had become cruel and unaccommodating because of the growing number of Jews.   


Leviticus 19:33-34 (New International Version) 

33 “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.  34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”


This verse demonstrates clear connectivity of this issue to the great Biblical command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Jesus was once pointedly asked who our neighbor might be.  He answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan and revealed neighbor to mean much more than merely the people who have adjoining property.  Neighbor, in the biblical context, most assuredly includes the foreign born who live among us and makes no distinction about their method of arrival.   


Deuteronomy 24:14-15 (New International Version)

14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. 15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

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Gary Vance is an evangelical pastor/writer living in rural Tennessee. He is the author of "Wasn't Jesus a Liberal?" and other published essays.
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