Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Immigration: Let's tell the truth

Talk about life imitating art: Yesterday’s immigration protests reminded me of the satirical movie, “A Day without a Mexican.” In the movie, everyone who is from south of the border disappears one day. This creates shortages for all the people who are moaning about illegal immigrants invading the country. There’s nobody to care for the children, pick the fruit, wash the dishes, and do so much else that we have deemed necessary to keep the economic machinery running, preserve our lifestyles, give us access to goods and services at dirt cheap prices, wholly because the laborers are treated like dirt.

So I suppose I need to ask some important questions here, both theological and personal:

What does the Bible say about immigration? The Bible shows us that God desired Israel to treat the alien the same as the native, and went to great lengths to warn against oppressing the alien, based on the remembrance that Israel was herself and aliens in a foreign land. Oppression that comes through paying substandard wages, or denying basic health care and education cannot be tolerated. At the same time, God places the burden on the alien to adapt to the cultural mores of their new land. If an alien wanted to participate in Israel’s festivals, that person had to embrace the ethic of the Jewish culture, and her practices. I interpret this to mean that the foreigner who wants to enjoy the benefits of a new land should be adaptable to the new land, learning her language, and obeying her laws. Are we open? Are our newcomers adaptable? Are we just? Are they obeying the laws?

Am I willing to be hospitable? Creating immigration laws on the books and then turning the other way because they continue to provide goods and services for us at far cheaper rates than would be possible if we treated them justly is the worst possible scenario, embodying both oppression and hypocrisy. It needs to end. And that means I need to be willing to pay real prices for strawberries, eating out, and cotton t-shirts. Am I willing? Are you? It seems that is part of what it means to be hospitable.


At 2/5/06 17:14, Anonymous graham said...

Okay, so we're not just pointing the finger now. That's good. I've been asking my friends what they think about the issue and the responses have been varied. It doesn''t seem like we're polarized because of deep convitions though. Moreso it seems like we are split because of a lack of understanding and a passive approach to the issue. That is why I like your contribution Richard because where many of us refuse to read books on Macro and Micro economics to figure out the actual impacts of this distribution of labor, there are other points of entrance into the discussion.

Here are some questions I have been looking into?
What in our Foriegn Economic Policies have contributed to foriegn growth? And what have supressed it? By supressing the growth of our global "friends" in the name of "aid" and "development" (yes, I have some presuppositions here) for the sake of maintaining the "land of the free", how can we be indignant towards those who would want similar opportunities? How can foreign governments help create more opportunities for thier citizens without relying on institutions like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund?

At 4/5/06 15:38, Anonymous K.Sale said...

One clarification I think needs to be made here. I don't see mentioned in the post a divide between legal and illegal immigrants. Richard rightly talks about oppression in terms of ultra-low wages, however this is only made possible by the influx of illegal aliens. We do have a structure to invite and protect people who legally come to the country and willing work hard to mesh into our society. However, we cannot protect the rights of illegals simply because they are such- illegal.

This debate and the subsequent rallies and marches it has spawned are being incorrectly labled as a movement for immigrant rights. I work with many people who have paid their dues and become a part of our society legally and this push for immediate amnesty to illegals has really ruffled their feathers.

To Graham's point, I'd look to Mexico's economic & political policy before jumping onto the blame America bandwagon. Some quick research led me to believe that Mexico's working class suffers under the yoke of poor economic policy and corruption. When all workers within Mexico's borders enjoy a right to a decent wage and to organize collectively, it will be harder for employers to ratchet wages and working standards down.

At 4/5/06 21:55, Blogger Jim Underhill said...

The world's history is full of times of migration and immigration. People leaving one place looking for another that provides security and opportunity. Our country's history is also full of such times, and our scorecard of helping immigrants fit in is mixed at best. The problem for everyone, even the church, is knowing what to respond to (legal, political, social aspects of immigration) and how (rejection, acceptance, protest). I pray we have the wisdom to know how to engage in this latest round, and to keep the love of Christ in our words and actions.

At 5/5/06 12:15, Anonymous Kristin Brown said...

I hesitate to respond to this, as I am so emotionally connected. It is difficult for me to read these opinions and feelings about my community. I teach in a program that provides early childhood education and health and human services to low income, immigrant families. The families I work with on a daily basis are intelligent, compassionate, hard working and have strong ties to the community. Most of their lives are riddled with hardship and sorrow. Many of them fled wars and poverty and hunger unlike anything that we will ever have to imagine suffering here. It is not unusual for families to have to split up, and be seperated for years. One of my co-workers has not seen her 10 year old daughter in 5 years. Regardless of if they are here legally or not (the majority, FYI, are legal, though it took tremendous effort to attain that status), NONE of them are able to find jobs with a livable wage. We are ignorant to think that proper paperwork gives anyone easy access to a decent job. There is incredible racism and biogtry and jobs are hard to come by when you speak with an accent and your religion is mocked by our culture. My families work two and three jobs, then attend ESL and job training classes in the evening, and still find time to come into my classroom to wash dishes, tie shoes, read stories to the children. When I visit their homes every September and ask what we can do for their children, their answers are always the same. Learn to speak English, learn to read and write English, have a better life. It is us as educators that often have to explain the importance of also preserving home language and culture.
Richard, you often encourage us to put a human face on the issues we discuss here. For anyone who is struggling with this issue, I urge you to come down to Rainer Valley and spend a day volunteering in my classroom. We would welcome you.

At 5/5/06 14:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to preface this with I also do not know exactly where I stand on this issue, but I want to bring forth another side that has not yet been discussed:

I think it is important to remember that this is not an issue of legal immigration - it is evident and it has been made clear that we are a country that encourages and continues to support the process of legal immigration. The system that we have set up for this process has been in place for years and has allowed many people (most of our ancestors included) into the country to find work, new homes, and participate in the "American Dream". The issue here is illegal immigration. I can understand and agree with Richard's point that we have to ask ourselves if we are willing to pay higher prices for food, t-shirts, etc. should we chose to close our boarder to illegal immigrants. However I think we also need to look at the other side of the issue. When you are not a legal citizen you do not have to pay the same taxes that American citizen have to, but you still get the opportunity to benefit from these taxes (one example would be free education). It would be interesting to see how much money illegal immigrants costs tax payers and look at the issue (at least financially) from that perspective.

At 5/5/06 17:34, Anonymous jeff brown said...

I think we need to be careful in comparing ancient Israel to the US. The laws and mores adopted by the Israelites were important to their theocratic structure. The US, on the other hand, is a democracy (at least we try to be). Within such a context, we need to continue to offer freedom from oppression to those who seek it. As Christians within this democracy, we should offer love and compassion to all. I find it interesting that in the New Testament, believers in Christ become the aliens; we are the ones living in a foreign land. Perhaps with this thought in mind we should recall the golden rule to treat others as we wish to be treated.

It is difficult to fully understand the various political, economic, and social aspects of immigration. As someone who grew up in Southern California, I am quite familiar with border issues. Unfortunately, I am also familiar with the racial slurs that have been cast upon our neighbors to the south. I think that at the end of the day, humankind is all alike: we all hope for a better life. For some, that hope becomes greed; for others, survival. But as a country that offers hope to the tired, the poor, and those earning to breathe free (as Lady Liberty proclaims), we cannot forget that immigration is really about people. When we look at someone, we shouldn't see legal or illegal, we should see a human being. That is what Christ sees.


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