The Immigration issue is complex, since it has to balance the rights of citizens of the United States and of those who enter the U.S. legally, with the basic human rights of those who flee their country due to their country’s oppressive, and even dangerous, policies. The Statue of Liberty claims to represent an attitude to those coming to the United States – that we symbolize freedom and that we welcome those seeking liberty. Yet, our attitudes to immigrants often don’t follow that promise.
Sometimes, to listen to Conservative Christian Republican candidates talk, we might think that they are called, by God, to dismiss, ostracize, and kick out the immigrant. There is little compassion or regard for any basic human rights, and if anything, we can hear fear, hatred, and using words that make the immigrant into someone not quite human. Listen to Romney, for instance, and you’ll hear the word “alien” used often, almost as if these people coming across our border from Mexico (or anywhere else) may as well be little green men from Mars.
Although these are the people who say they take the Bible seriously, and even literally, there is little discussion about Biblical precepts, unless it seems to serve their purpose. Although this is a complex issue in terms of what actions to take, it doesn’t take much to hear that there are many negative attitudes toward the immigrant. Much of the rhetoric has attitudes of fear, defense and protection – rather than any sense of basic human rights. But any discussion of what actions need to be taken must begin with a discussion of what attitudes are behind our actions and why those attitudes exist. We might notice, for instance, that we’re far more willing to welcome the northern European immigrant than the person from the Middle-East. We seem more willing to welcome the Hispanic from Spain, than the Hispanic from Mexico or El Salvador. Could some of our immigration policy be based on racist attitudes? Probably.
And what does the Bible have to say about this problem? Quite a lot.
We are to love the stranger (Deut. 10) and not to oppress the alien (Exodus 23). We are led to action through the Social Gospel, that asks us to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4) and to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger (Matthew 25). We are to do these actions to the least of us. If we believe this, what public policy might result? Should our Christian beliefs be part of our public policy at all? If a candidate says it should be, then that candidate has to take these passages seriously.
There are many problems that need to be addressed when we look at immigration. We can look at the roots of the problem of immigration – why do people want to come to the U.S. and leave their country? Usually it’s because of the oppression of the countries that force their citizens to flee in order to feed and clothe their children, and our own country’s use and abuse of the immigrants in order to keep up our own standard of living through the labor of the poor. Although we might say we’d like all the immigrants to leave, our standard of living is dependent upon them being here.
This means the problem has to be addressed through many avenues because of its complexity. Dennis Kucinich says “there are no illegal people”. Many would affirm fair treatment for everyone, that the stranger is not forgotten and further oppressed. We try to balance fair treatment for those within our country with fair treatment for those coming to our country. And we need to try to separate fact from fiction about fairness.
We need to decide, as a democratic country, to what extent do we believe that there are basic human rights – that should be available to everyone, regardless of where they live. This means struggling with whether, or not, we should provide education, health care, and any democratic rights to those who are not citizens of our country. Personally, I believe there are some basic human rights that should transcend borders.
During the last seven years, many of our basic democratic rights have been taken away from our citizens, as well as from non-citizens. We need to decide if human rights are basic – and inalienable – or whether they just belong to those who happen to be favored by our current government. And if human rights cost us, do we prefer to put our money into protecting and affirming rights, or into the billions spent for corruption and war?