This is the fourth installment of my series called, Defending My Politics with My Faith. The issue on the table today is immigration.
Let me start by saying that I think the vast majority of Americans are almost totally ignorant when it comes to the real issues behind the immigration situation in America. The media is pretty good at pointing out the problems because they make for sensational stories—bands of refugees risking their lives by marching toward the U.S. border from Central America—Cuban refugees on rickety, make-shift rafts—children in cages separated from their parents along the border with Mexico—we’ve all seen those images. Depending upon which side of the political aisle you are on, your reaction to those kinds of stories will range anywhere from a sense of rage to a feeling of satisfaction. But those images are only symptoms of the disease. The media, in general, does a lousy job of covering the disease.
I was totally ignorant of the disease until a few years ago when I attended a conference on global education in Boston. I got to hear a lot of great speakers at that conference, including Ken Burns, who really opened my eyes. The presentation which had the greatest impact on me that week was on immigration by a man I’d never heard of until that day. The speaker was Jose Antonio Vargas. Vargas told the spellbinding tale of his own life as an undocumented immigrant. You can read all about his story in the groundbreaking autobiographical essay he wrote for the New York Times. When he was done telling his amazing story, Vargas began digging into the disease of our immigration system. He began talking about what truly drives people to risk everything to cross the border without proper documentation. He spoke of the drive to be reunited with family already in the United States. He spoke of the vast seas of red tape that stand in the way of legal immigration. And he spoke of the ridiculous wait times facing those who try to do it “the right way.” I didn’t know about any of that. I didn’t realize that, in order to obtain the proper documentation to permanently enter the U.S., one must get in line with millions of others and wait years, often decades, and sometimes…a lifetime.
Did you know that each year hundreds of thousands of people die while waiting for their chance to become documented citizens? It’s true. Depending on the country from which an applicant comes, the wait time for processing the required paperwork can take years. The average projected wait time for all applicants for Green Cards is over 2 years. That’s a long time to wait, but that’s just the average. If you’re from China, you can expect to wait up to 16 years, India, up to 54 years, Mexico, up to 102 years!
I walked out of that conference session with my mouth hanging wide open. I had no earthly clue how badly diseased our immigration system is. I found a whole new level of empathy for those waiting to do things “the right way.”
I used to be one of those people who said things like that—we welcome anyone who does it the right way—because it’s easy to say things like that when you don’t know about the disease. I was ignorant and ignorance is completely incompatible with empathy.
I started to reform my political stance on immigration that day. I also started to take another look at what the Bible says about immigration. For the first time, I began to see Jesus as an immigrant. It was right there in front of me the whole time, but I just didn’t see it that way. Then I began to read some scriptures about immigration.
Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Matthew 25:35 “For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”
Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Zechariah 7:9-10 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
Ezekiel 47:22 “You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.”
Jeremiah 7:5-7 ““For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”
Things began to come into sharper focus for me. I began to see it as my duty as a Christian to vote for candidates who have a plan to make the path to citizenship for the sojourners of our times easier and much more reasonable.
The phrase “open borders” gets thrown around a lot towards people who vote like me. The accusation is that we want to just step aside and let the masses flood in unchecked. That’s just not true. Our government does need to have records of all the people who live in this country. The fact of the matter is that our records would be exponentially better and more accurate if we’d tackle the disease of our immigration system instead of focusing on symptoms.
Let’s work together to cure the disease. Let’s make the path to citizenship smoother.