Monday, August 18, 2008
Isaiah and Immigration
With the recognition that we are a nation built on immigrants, I find it ironic that the current immigration debate has become so vitriolic on both sides. What I find even more paradoxical is that a nation of immigrants presuming to live under the rule of law is seemingly losing its respect for both immigrants and the law. Thankfully, the prophet Isaiah, though he lived more than 2500 years ago, has more wisdom than either the Democrats or the Republicans.
I've been thinking about the immigration issue for some time now, due to my own intimate dealings with the subject matter. I say this to point out that the immigration issue, for me, is not merely an abstract, academic discussion, but rather, one that I deal with on an almost weekly basis. Every Sunday, our churches worship in six different languages. More than 25% of our member congregations are non-Anglo and non-English speaking. As such, many of the pastors of those churches are not American citizens, and consequently, part of our service to our churches is to help immigrant pastors navigate through the legal jaggernaut that is the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. In fact, our office keeps a close relationship with an immigration attorney, whom we often consult for just this purpose.
After more than five years of dealing with this issue in both South Carolina and Maryland, I've come to the conclusion that the problems which permeate the current immigration debate have their roots in the immigration system itself. And here is where Isaiah speaks pointedly and prophetically:
"Woe to those who enact evil statutes
And to those who constantly record unjust decisions,
2 So as to deprive the needy of justice
And rob the poor of My people of their rights,
So that widows may be their spoil
And that they may plunder the orphans.
3 Now what will you do in the day of punishment,
And in the devastation which will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your wealth?"
Sound a bit strong? Not if you have had much experience with our immigration system, which has itself produced the following problems:
1. A nation awash in lawbreakers. Organizations like casa de Maryland here in my state actually encourage immigrants and employers to break the law, and are strong advocates for granting to illegal immigrants the same social benefits my father has worked more than 40 years to obtain. Marches have been held in Montgomery county, not far from my home, where illegals, with the help of this organization, demand their "rights," which strikes me as funny. Were I to go to France, stand outside a government building and demand the same rights, privileges, and social benefits as those who have lived and worked legally in that nation for decades, I suspect it wouldn't be long before I was given a complimentary ride in a French police car to the nearest American consulate.
But overall, illegals themselves are not the problem. Many in fact do not "demand" rights. They only want a fair shot at being able to make a life for themselves in the US, and are prevented from doing so by a system that is complicated, intimidating, and hopelessly unclear. In short, while a loud minority of arrogant lawbreakers make the news, a huge number of illegals wish to be legal, but are made to be criminal by a system that gives them no chance of a normal American life.
2. Mistreatment of those who try to do the right thing.. I have seen it over and over again. Even in my own association, immigrants who try to obey the law are hassled, harrassed, delayed, stonewalled, and mistreated. While thousands cross our borders illegally every week with INS looking the other way, simultaneously, good people trying to obey the law are sent packing.
In other words, the lawbreakers are being rewarded, while those who try to obey the law are being punished. Laws that create this kind of environment are, by default, unjust laws, and therefore fit Isaiah's descrpition. Our current system of immigration deprives the needy, the widows, and the orphans by stripping those who have worked, paid taxes, and invested in our nation legally from their right to continued residency, while simultaneously granting these same benefits to those who are here illegally, thereby depriving American poor, widows, and orphans.
Part of the problem, of course, is the antiquated nature of our current system. Originally set up to accomodate a mostly European population entering the nation through Ellis Island and San Francisco, our curent system cannot possibly be expected to accomodate immigrants from all over the world, coming through multiple entry points.
But to solve these, and many of the other issues with our current system will take more than the "get rid of them all" approach of many Republicans, or the "ignore the law" approach of many Democrats. It will require a Biblical conviction to write and enforce laws that are just, and an American church that understands our responsibility to minister to "aliens and strangers" (Leviticus 19:34). To treat our foreign-born friends with dignity means that we have laws that are fair to them, while simultaneously holding them accountable to obey those laws.
How do we do this? While I'm far from a legal expert, I'll try to offer a few ways to "move forward" in the coming days.