Documented and Undocumented “Parasites”

A friend of Hispanic descent shared with me after New Wine, New Wineskins’ recent conference on immigration reform that someone seated near her said, “I hate parasites.” My friend said that the person in question—presumably a Christian given the Christian setting of the conference—was questioning the value of undocumented people living here in the U.S. I have a hard time not devaluing the statement and perspective of the unidentified person to whom my friend referred. There are several reasons why I find the statement troubling and worthy of critique.

Certainly, undocumented people benefit in a wide variety of ways from living in America.  But as they pay a variety of taxes, they are benefiting our system, even as they may not benefit from those tax dollars to the extent that we do. In some ways, citizens and other documented people may be benefiting disproportionately from the undocumented, as with such tax dollars and in the purchasing of produce that would quite possibly be priced higher if citizens and other documented people were working the fields where such produce is harvested by those without legal status. By the way, if Americans benefit from lower prices for food products harvested by the undocumented, does that not make American consumers accomplices in illegal activity, knowingly or unknowingly? (By the way, New Wine will address this subject at our spring 2014 conference on the multi-faceted phenomenon of food). Regardless of one’s response to that question, America benefits from the work, purchasing power, and taxes paid by the undocumented.

Having said all this, for those who are still concerned about undocumented people benefiting from the American system, the best way to keep undocumented people from benefiting inappropriately from the system is to put in place a path to citizenship, while allowing them to remain and work as they pursue legal status. In keeping with the Evangelical Immigration Table’s call for immigration reform, it is in the best interest of all parties that we as a country establish “a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”

Even so, beyond all the talk of benefits, we should never view another human being as a parasite, regardless of their legal status. All people are created in the image of God and have inherent dignity and worth. Or as Elie Wiesel has been quoted as saying, “You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”

We must not allow categories like “illegal” or for that matter “parasite” to be imposed on people, for such terms suck the life and dignity from them. We must not allow such devaluing words as “parasite” to replace God’s concern for the stranger (regardless of legal status) set forth in Scripture: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) As I have written elsewhere, dehumanizing words like “parasites” matter: sticks and stones do break bones, and words often lead there. Such faulty thinking and language constructs like “parasites” as applied here should not be allowed to benefit from what is taken to be “civilized” or “biblical,” but taken to be alien and parasitical impositions on what is to be conceived as humane and Judeo-Christian.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and The Christian Post.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • BajaRat

    Illegal aliens are criminals and parasites, one and all. Practically everything they do on U.S. soil is illegal. They need to be ferreted out, rounded up like cattle, punished for their numerous crimes, then booted back to whence they snuck in from and banned from re-entry for life. Build a wall and deport ‘em all. Enough is enough.

    • Brian Considine

      BajaRat, I’m guessing here, but with such hate, bitterness and anger, you’re not a Christian. For, you see, saying “Illegal aliens are criminals and parasites” in reference to another human being is not something a Christian can actually utter. The Word of God tells us that “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Tragically, this is true today of many who call themselves “Christians” but it does not represent Jesus. But even if you’re not a Christian, making sweeping generalizations like “everything they do on U.S. soil is illegal” shows a level of ignorance and arrogance that is unbecoming of an educated society. What has made you this way?

  • Rick Cordell

    Some have objected that our society no longer is able to even meet the needs of “our own,” so we need to exclude others in order to maintain our standard of living.

    We’re NOT able to take care of our own IN OUR OWN STRENGTH AND WISDOM AND RESOURCES. (But when in our country’s history have the needs of all of our citizens ever been fully met?)

    Yet in God’s providence and provision, we ARE able to take care of NOT ONLY “our own” but all others that He sovereignly brings our way as it pleases Him. (That doesn’t negate efforts to exercise reasonable immigration policies and procedures.) If our commitment is to secure the American dream for ourselves, we’d better get rid of everyone who stands in our way, including not only anyone we consider undesirable, but also Jesus. And deny the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture. Especially Matthew 25:31-46.

    So on Judgment Day you’re going to bring up the “law of the land” as your justification for contradicting the King of the Universe? Really??

  • Loren Sickles

    The above mentioned reference to the “undocumented” as “parasites” immediately called to mind an article by Steven Perry (1983) entitled “Rhetorical Functions of the Infestation Metaphor in Hitler’s Rhetoric.” In critically analyzing Hitler’s use of metaphorical devices Perry states that “all manner of figurative imagery abounds in these documents, and these figurations are more than stylistic devices: Hitler’s critique of the Jew’s status as a cultural being, for example, is not illustrated by this metaphor of parasitism; it is constituted
    by this metaphor and the figurative entailments it carries.”

    Kenneth Burke long ago coined the term “language as symbolic action,” which can be summarized to mean that “language is a mode of doing something in the world, rather than simply a means of representing it” (Weiss (?), 2008). The use of the parasite metaphor in discussions around the immigration issue opens the door for very dangerous, and hopefully, unintended consequences. Perry goes on to state that “the figurative language employed by Hitler is not supplementary or subordinate to some argumentative or discursive substructure; it is itself Hitler’s ‘argument.’

    For people who adhere to a Christian world view the idea that any human would be de-humanized to the level of a parasitic infestation, and thereby subject to all necessary means of eradication, flies in the face of all that Christ taught and modeled. For people who are guided by another world view the same de-humanizing language leads down a historical path that includes all of the worst crimes against humanity, not the least of which was the Holocaust of WWII.

    Perry goes on to caution against the common practice of “the metaphorical ravaging of social groups and classes . . . All these metaphors call up specific valuative connotations associated with the vehicle of the metaphor, and all promote a fundamental de-humanization of the subjects to whom they are applied.”

    Language does not merely describe our world, it shapes our understanding of it and how we interact with it.

    • Jerry Lynch

      Thank you, Loren, wonderful and enlightening piece. Have I mentioned well-written yet as well? This particular piece of information is dang near transformative: “language as symbolic action,” which can be summarized to mean that “language is a mode of doing something in the world, rather than simply a means of representing it.”

      • Loren Sickles

        Thank you Jerry for your kind words.