Reflections on Arizona

Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on the Arizona immigration law while reading editorials and posts from every side.  The point has been made that foreigners in any country are always supposed to carry appropriate identification, so what’s the big deal about a state law that simply authorizes local enforcement?  The issue is complicated by rapidly changing demographics, the highest percentage of foreign language immigrants ever, drugs, gangs and violence.  
That we have a very porous border with Mexico is obvious, and the influx of undocumented persons coming across does create problems.  No doubt about it.  But in the end I believe this law, and the attitudes behind it, are more about race and fear: classic xenophobia. I have heard the public denials, the assertions of horror that anyone would think this law is racist, even a little bit. I have also heard the sidewalk and coffee shop conversation in my little mountain valley 1200 miles north of Arizona.  It is conversation rich in unverified assumptions combined with racial prejudice.  It makes me wonder if there is anything in the Arizona law that is different from the anti Chinese and Japanese laws of the late 19th century and the blatant racism from which they were born and that they fostered.  Nevertheless, good may yet come from it.  Perhaps the pundits are right and the Arizona law will prod Congress into appropriate action on immigration reform.  I hope it does, but I also hope that it is not reform that panders to our worst fears and prejudices.  
Apart from what happens in Washington or what the polls claim, we who follow Christ are under a greater obligation to seek God’s will, and God seems to have had quite a bit to say about aliens.  Consider, for instance, the following taken from the Law. 
Ex. 22:21   You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 
Ex. 23:9   You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 
Lev. 19:10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God. 
Lev. 19:33   When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. 
Lev. 23:22   When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God. 
Deut. 1:16 I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien
Deut. 24:17   You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. 
Deut. 24:19   When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings.  20 When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 
Deut. 24:21   When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 
Deut. 26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 
Deut. 27:19   “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” 
The Law, standing by itself, can be argued with on the grounds that it applied only to the ancient Israelites, but when the prophets waded in on the sins of Israel, these were among the issues that God addressed as hallmarks of societal injustice.  The prophets’ words were a strong preamble to Jesus’ work that took him deep into the lives of gentiles, his parables, and his teaching, none of which gives room for the justification of xenophobia.  
Allegations abound whether illegal aliens add to the economic well being of our communities or cost them money.  There seems to be plenty of evidence on both sides, but at its heart this cannot be an economic question of advantage but a moral question of godly justice.  It’s not an easy question to answer.  Approaching it means that we have to be serious about other questions as well:
  • What has caused our failure to curtail drug use?
  • What is our complicity in enticing illegal workers into a life of underpaid subservience?
  • What, if anything, can we do to influence a change in the Mexican culture of corruption and graft?
  • What interdiction can be placed on gangs?
  • How can we assist Anglos to ease into their new role as one ethnic identity among many, none of which is a majority?

As it is said, we live in interesting times.

10 thoughts on “Reflections on Arizona”

  1. Just how deep-seated is the fear that what is \”ours\” is being stolen right under our noses by strangers speaking Spanish, or strangers wielding strange powers in government or on Wall Street, or some other alien threat exposed (again and again) on talk radio?And how deep is the anger that sees those strangers in government taxing us to fund this very theft?This fear and anger is as deep as a loveless and faithless life, a life dominated by the repeated delusive hopes that follow failed love, failed faith.So where in the day by day life of such folk may love and faith show itself in such a way that they may discover a new sense of hope?

  2. Tom,I'm about 3/4 through with Tutu's new book \”Made for Goodness.\” It's simply written and might even seem naive in its insistence that we are able to exhibit Christ's redeeming love in our own lives if it wasn't for the hatred, violence, fear and bigotry he experienced all about him over the years.Steve

  3. You know . . . If you removed just one of those commandments, you'd be left with ten. Wonder what the reaction from the religious right would be if we got THOSE 10 Commandments nailed to our government walls?

  4. \”How can we assist Anglos to ease into their new role as one ethnic identity among many, none of which is a majority?\”ONE ETHNIC IDENTITY – yikes, are you crazy? ME WHITE MAN – YOU NOT!Anonymous:) xoxo

  5. You have taken the Hebrew word \”ger\” as \”resident alien\”, which is the New Revised Standard Version interpretation, as is a likely meaning (the New English Version says just \”alien\”, while the KJV says \”stranger\”). The question is whether that word means an immigrant,or a survivor of the original inhabitants, the Canaanites. Psalm 106 expresses regret that Israel did not exterminate those original owners of the land (=Palestinians?),\”They (=we)did not destroy the peoples round about, as the LORD had commanded them to do…\” (NEB). Dr B

  6. There are certainly a host of groups to blame for what's going on, but as the son of Mexican immigrants, I'm always surprised by how few people blame the Mexican government. They're lucky our country is so accommodating because if the people who leave Mexico were forced to stay (and couldn't send back there $billions), then perhaps the 800 or so families that have been running Mexico the past 100 years or so would be forced to institute some serious political and economic reforms. My own take on this issue is that we should just make it easy and institute the same immigration laws used by Mexico.

  7. CP,I've spent 4 weeks (2 weeks each time, separated by 10 years) in the same small town about 3 hours north of Mexico City serving on a United Methodist Building Team building a church and then an orphanage. We all lived with families in their homes and were blessed with amazing hospitality. That in no way makes me an expert. However, those 4 weeks taught me to \”cringe\” and sometimes \”teach\” from the blessings given to me by my Mexican brothers and sisters when I'd hear with new ears the racial and derogatory slurs targeting the hard-working spanish speaking immigrants in our small NC town. The Mexican family I lived with in 2002 ran a small business in the city market. The father, mother with child and several small children had entered the US \”illegally\” some 10 years earlier. He and his family eventually returned to their home in Mexico and indicated he would never enter the USA again in that way because of what they'd experienced at the hands of US citizens too fearful and filled with hate. He described this scenario that you described in your post with very different eyes than ours (even the loving & compassionate ones). This young man also revealed that Mexico has/had regulations that cause much of the illegal entries into the USA. A Mexican citizen has to have a significant amount of cash left in the bank, a home they own and an auto that is left behind. I may have some details incorrect but the intent is obvious — the Mexican government wants a way to stop folks leaving the mess the government has created and to encourage their return or have assets to seize if they don't. I suspect that most, if not all, of the undocumented immigrants entering the USA do not have what is required to \”leave\” Mexico \”legally\”. I say all this to make an observation. Why is the biblical case you laid out so well so \”alien\” to so many who claim to be a Christian? These poor people are caught between the cracks of the \”powers that be\” in the USA and Mexico. May God continue to deliver us all from such oppression and slavery.

  8. Miguel,I would be loathe to suggest that America follow the Mexican lead with regard to immigration or emigration laws. We need to work on our own issues of justice rather than importing the injustices of another country.CPOtis,Fear. Is the issue fear? Fear that we, whoever the we are, have simply lost control of our personal lives, the lives of our communities, and, in some sense, the life of the nation? If so, why are we so afraid? My own guess is that it has to do with power. As long as those illegals were a source of cheap labor who did not have the power to demand much from us and generally went away when we didn't need them anymore, no one cared. Now they want to stay and become a part of us, and that changes everything. CP

  9. CP,I suspect \”fear\” isn't the only factor but a significant one. \”Control\” would be another one I'd agree with. \”Power\” definitely makes \”the other\” harder to ignore or have apathy towards. As Dr. Scott Peck once said — any major problem has many roots. In many ways don't you think much of this hate-filled behavior toward the less powerful in general is transferred misdirected anger? In many ways I suspect much of this hate-filled behavior is directed at \”safe\” visible symbols of a larger cultural systematic context that is causing pain and insecurity which is pushing for unwanted growth. It seems all-too-easy for folks in power to miss-use and abuse folks not in power for their own agendas. Maybe this is why, in God's wisdom, scripture speaks so loudly about how God's people are to look out for the vulnerable in our societies – e.g., the widows, orphans and aliens in our land.Thank you CP.

  10. Thank you Otis,Your comments remind me of Renee Gerard's work on the nature of cultural violence that ends in the martyrdom of some sacrificial victim.CP

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