SynchroBlog - Immigration Reform

CHRISTIANS AND THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE - 9/8/2010

Congress continues to debate immigration reform, with Arizona as the infamous example of where we – as a society – are quite capable of ending up.  As people of faith, we have to work harder in developing a clear witness to issues of isolationism, protectionism, classism, xenophobia, hyper-patriotism and social militance.  We have to do better.
 
I tend to think of Oregon (and the Pacific Northwest) as generally progressive and politically Democratic.   Unfortunately a recent report showed that 61% of Oregonians agree with Arizona's immigration law.   The truth is, however liberal-minded we are, Oregon is far from diverse.  I've told this story before: I recently had a woman tell me about her brother who owns an orchard: "with all the laws they have protecting migrant workers, the housing they require makes it nicer than than our own homes!"   That's right: having functional plumbing, electricity and insulation means her brother's migrant workers were living better than him.

That's the rhetoric from conservatives.  But white liberals love to talk about acceptance, compassion and multiculturalism.  We get very uncomfortable when that starts to hit our own homogenous neighborhoods (a "novelty" of diversity rapidly becomes a "problem").  In Who Will Roll Away the Stone, Myers writes:

For Christian theology, the privileged space of entitlement is first and foremost problematized by the gospel itself, which contends that its truth is better perceived by those on the margins than by those at the center. This stands to reason: Those who have been dispossessed by a social system are by definition less possessed by that system's illusions about itself. (17)

The contemporary zeitgeist cannot be trusted to protect the vulnerable and marginalized.  I’m quite skeptical when the appeal is: “the majority of Americans believe…” or especially “the majority of Christians believe…” because the majority is painfully fickle, moved more often by fear and self-preservation than by moral clarity or spiritual enlightenment.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ demonstrated God’s weakness, love, redemption, renewal and liberation. I believe that spiritual awakening in Christ must lead us to advocate, opening prison doors and setting captives free. Because the Body of Christ does not function by magic, but by liberated people, powered by the Holy Spirit, continuing the work of liberation.

To reference Desmond Tutu: As a Christian, I believe that I am in bondage until my sisters and brothers, neighbors and enemies are truly liberated. I cannot be human if I cannot affirm the humanity of others. I cannot be human if my neighbors are not allowed their humanity. All of my efforts to liberate, liberate me. Jesus said, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, my brethren, you have done unto me.” So God is liberated to be God when we liberate each other.


What does liberation have to do with border policies?  It all comes down to what we believe our fellow human beings DESERVE.  If we believe people deserve human rights, then we must be ready to extend them those rights, ourselves.  If we cannot extend those basic human rights with whatever small capacity we have, we cannot claim to support them.

Jesus' flesh-and-blood ministry challenged the economy of empire, and the culture of class isolation. But in America, most of us are still drunk on a dream of self-made-destiny and prosperity. We think we're entitled to something that never existed. We strive for it at the expense of the most vulnerable.  These are our neighbors, for Christ's sake!


"YOU ARE TO DISTRIBUTE THIS LAND AMONG YOURSELVES ACCORDING TO THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL. YOU ARE TO ALLOT IT AS AN INHERITANCE FOR YOURSELVES AND FOR THE ALIENS WHO HAVE SETTLED AMONG YOU AND WHO HAVE CHILDREN. YOU ARE TO CONSIDER THEM AS NATIVE-BORN ISRAELITES; ALONG WITH YOU THEY ARE TO BE ALLOTTED AN INHERITANCE AMONG THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL.  IN WHATEVER TRIBE THE ALIEN SETTLES, THERE YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM HIS INHERITANCE," DECLARES THE SOVEREIGN LORD.
EZEKIEL 47:21-23

This piece is one of a collection of posts today across the blogosphere. 
Here are other participants in this Synchroblog:

Jonathan Brink – Immigration Synchroblog


Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being the Flag

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can Make Dreams Come True

Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories

Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?

Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head – it’s a lot easier to be against immigration when you have papers

Steve Hayes at Khanya – Christians and the Immigration Issue

Ellen Haroutunian - Give Me Your Tired

Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear

Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge and Eyes Wide Shut

Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother

Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration

Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Absolutely Right

Peter Walker – Synchroblog – Immigration Reform

Steven Calascione at Eirenikos – The Jealousy of Migration

George Elerick at The Love Revolution – We’re Not Kings or Gods

6 comments:

Norm! said...

I like to consider myself a social/political liberal Christian, but I have a hard time aligning myself with liberal/progressives' vague rhetoric regarding US immigration policy. Although there are always racists extremists, I think few seriously question the humanness of those who enter and work in the US illegally.

It seems when many liberal/progressives criticize US immigration policy, they tend to unfairly characterize opponents as racist, xenophobic, etc. However, many progressive countries (i.e. Canada, UK, France, etc.) have legitimate reasons to have borders and seemingly unfair immigration policies. And while I agree that US immigration policy needs to be reformed; any immigration law will always have a deportation penalty for illegal entry or working in the US. Whether a person enters and works here illegally for one hour, one day, one month, or one decade, a deportation policy will always seem unjust and unfair.

Also, there are also other legitimate considerations to discouraging illegal immigration. In the mid-1990s, I was surprised to hear of a visiting Mexican politician at my university support a strong US border. His reasoning was that the very Mexicans who risk everything to immigrate to the US were likely the very same entrepreneurs and risk-takers his country needed. A border-less US would likely harm many countries' economies and societies.

That said, I oppose the unconstitutional racial profiling of the AZ law and support helping people who live here regardless of their immigration status. And while I do sympathize with the unfairness of those who may eventually be deported or otherwise prosecuted, I can't say that I necessarily disagree with penalties for illegal entry or employment.

Liz said...

Peter - loved your post and I didn't get the feeling that you were calling for completely open borders. What your post reminds me of is that it seems that most of our immigration laws seem to lack the spirit of "what is the most we can do to allow people to enter our country and become citizens and enjoy the same benefits and privileges that we enjoy AND at the same time be reasonable sound laws" --- Instead it seems that our laws go to a lot of trouble to make it so difficult to enter legally that they actually seem to encourage people to enter illegally"

Peter J Walker said...

Norm! I think you offer a healthy counterbalance, from a political standpoint. While - in some of my experiences, and the testimonies of Latinos I have spoken with - I believe racism and xenophobia are genuinely powerful (extremely powerful) forces at work, you're right that calling names and labeling a whole position is unhelpful. And not everyone who supports border control supports what Arizona did.

I think the main difference here is what we advocate for as American citizens, and what we advocate for as Christians. As Christians, we shouldn't be asking, "What will these immigrants do to my lifestyle?"

We should be asking two questions:

"What can we do to show hospitality, care and neighborly love to those who are already here?"

AND (this really goes to the heart of things) "What can the church be doing to improve lives in Mexico and to stop human rights violations and support fair wages, so that health, safety and opportunity can be had there as well?"

That's the root issue. The root issue is the lack of basic human rights, safety and opportunity in Mexico. As Christians, we should be feeding their poor, caring for their sick, advocating for their oppressed and protecting their women and children from crime syndicates.

Instead, Christians keep getting in line with angry patriots who want higher walls and more razor wire.

Liz, you're right, I'm not calling for completely open borders - mostly because that would cause chaos, and again, not solve any of the root problems in Mexico that need our compassionate attention.

I have this picture in my mind of Christians, standing along the trenches and razor wire and walls of the US-Mexican border at Juarez, Mexico. Thousands upon thousands of people are dying each year, murdered, kidnapped... there is a literal war on women there, with rape, kidnapping, prostitution, torture and death tolls all climbing at staggering rates among women and young girls in particular.

Human beings - our neighbors - flee the city (as it burns) and come to our doorstep (our walls) and ask for refuge...

"HELP US!"

We ask for proof of citizenship. When they show us empty hands, we send them back into Sodom as it burns.

"Whatever you did NOT do for the least of these, my brethren..." (Jesus)

Maybe that sounds dramatic (I'm a dramatic guy) but my point is that as Christians, our priorities are pretty f*cked up.

Beth P. said...

It's time to be dramatic, Peter--what have we got to lose?

Appreciated your viewpoints--

Peter J Walker said...

Thanks Beth, I'm enjoying the convo!

kathyescobar said...

peter, thanks for sharing in the synchroblog.to me, the tutu quote sums up so much of what i believe about this issue. those, next to Jesus words, are a powerful reminder.

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