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 alien. 34 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.