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.