Anson Burlingame responded to my last post, saying he was “frankly confused” about my position on “illegal immigration.” He asked if we should “just open the border and let’m all come in” or “try hard to stop the flow of such people across our southern border?” He also wrote:
You spent considerable time in this blog suggesting what Christ would do in this situation. Do you have a solid answer to that quest, Christ’s intentions regarding American policy toward immigration, or any other country, Christian or not in that regard? Or instead would you leave Christ and his teachings out of political discussions regarding immigration law in America?
Here is my reply:
First, let me be clear about one thing. I don’t believe any public policy ought to be fashioned based on the words of an ancient religious text, Christian or otherwise. We are, of course, partly a product of our past, and in our particular history Christianity played a very large part in shaping who we are culturally and nationally. Thus, in some important ways, we are still, as G. K. Chesterton put it, living in “the shadow of the faith” and I don’t doubt that many of the good things in our public policy sprang from some notion of Christian charity or morality.
That being said, our Constitution is a secular not a Christian document and, over time, we have (almost fully but not quite) embraced the idea that, when it comes to making our laws, religious sects should not be given any more deference than other groups of people. In fact, that idea is enshrined in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”) for those with eyes to see it, with eyes not scaled over by religious dogma.
Second, my criticism is clearly directed toward those on the right who make certain claims about how this is a Christian nation, when, as I have said, it is obvious that this present humanitarian crisis demonstrates that we are not, never was, and were never meant to be. Keep that in mind. I am not advocating that our immigration policy should be based on this or that interpretation of the New Testament or of the words of Jesus himself. What I have been doing is pointing out the hypocrisy of folks who claim they believe in the Bible, wave it in our faces and demand our government follow it, but ignore it when it says uncomfortable things like the following from the Old Testament:
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.
Do you see anything in that scripture about treating those “foreigners” merely as lawbreakers? As illegals? “Love them as yourself,” the Bible says.
In the New Testament we have the claim that Jesus himself spent his early years in Egypt as what some Tea Party-ish Egyptians might have called an “illegal immigrant.” His parents brought him there, it is alleged, to escape a dangerous political regime in Palestine. Yet today we see countless people, many of them undoubtedly church-going Jesus-followers, ignoring Jesus when he says, “I was a stranger and you invited me in” and concluding,
…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
If any of those Central American children are not “one of the least of these,” then I don’t know who would be.
On this point I will add that I have been told all of my life that we are made in the “image of God,” as the Bible says. Such is supposedly why we are special creatures. I find it odd that the same people who believe the Bible is God’s Word, who presumably believe we are all created in God’s likeness, somehow see those seeking asylum here—even if they do so by crossing our border without documentation—as less than special creatures. More than odd, I find the hypocrisy appalling. According to the Apostle Paul, at one time Christians were “foreigners to the covenants of the promise” but now their “citizenship is in heaven,” so I don’t see how so many Christians today conclude that kids trying to find hope in the United States are simply lawbreakers who need to be sent home no matter the danger involved.
Third, you asked me, a local liberal, a fair question:
(W)hat do you suggest American policy should be in terms of controlling immigration across our Mexican border, specifically and should it be any different from how we control other immigration into America for anywhere else?
I’ll start by stating the obvious: We won’t all agree on what is a good immigration policy, one that satisfies our notions of law and order and justice while demonstrating a certain amount of compassion towards those desperately (and perhaps illegally) seeking work or asylum here. Good and honest people can disagree about the emphasis we place on law and order as opposed to compassion. Enforcing the laws and treating people compassionately are both components of any notion of the common good.
I will also tell you that based on my idea of the common good—how I derive such an idea is too long to go into—I begin with the proposition that borders ought not matter, when it comes to people starving to death or escaping some form of persecution. What I mean is that it is only natural for people, who cannot find work enough in one place to support themselves or their family, to seek work elsewhere. Just as it is natural for people to flee from things like forced gang membership by the threat of death or from oppressive regimes that threaten their liberty and well-being. Often there isn’t time to get in a orderly immigration line and wait.
With that in mind, I will give you my thoughts on the matter, with the understanding that I am responding provisionally and generally:
1. Those undocumented young people who are here because their parents brought them here (illegally) should be granted citizenship, without any strings attached, today. Right now. Not another minute should pass before that is done. These kids are American citizens in every way, except for the paperwork. Shame on the Republican Party for standing in the way of getting that accomplished. It is unconscionable.
2. The millions of other people here for years without proper documentation should be given a clear path to citizenship, along the lines adopted by the Obama administration. If you can pass a background check and you arrived here before, say, December 31, 2011 (as in the Senate version of immigration reform), then you can stay and partake of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, so long as you pay some taxes and a penalty and get in line behind those who sought citizenship legally. I would jettison Obama’s requirement that you have to learn English, since there are several palefaces here in Southwest Missouri who find the language challenging. Heck, one of them is a regular columnist for the Joplin Globe.
3. As for those Central American children and others who have come here in the last two years, they should be allowed to stay and eventually become citizens, if they can substantiate a claim that going back might prove dangerous. I will add that the evidence needed for substantiating such a claim would be rather modest, as far as I’m concerned. Most of them will need lawyers, or perhaps paralegals, for this, but so be it. Needless to say, we should provide the adequate funding to pay for legal assistance and basic humanitarian needs, like food, housing, and medical care, including immunizations. We should also establish more (and hopefully temporary) immigration courts to handle the current backlog (estimated to be around 367,000 cases, with 3200 of them in Missouri). Or else we could tell them to go to hell, which is essentially what some Americans, many of them Christians, are endorsing
4. If you have arrived here in the last two years but can’t prove a claim of asylum, then you should be able to prove you have some other reason that merits some type of forgiveness for entering the country illegally, like, for instance, reuniting with family members who are citizens (and immigration law should be changed to expedite the unification of families; that’s the least that so-called family values conservatives should do, don’t you think?). Again, such people would have to go to the back of the line and wait their turn to become citizens.
5. In order to clear up any misunderstandings and to discourage the dangerous trip through Mexico to the U.S. that thousands of children have taken, Congress should change the law so that Central American immigrants entering the country illegally can be deported faster than they can be under current law. Then an advertising campaign in the relevant countries should follow.
6. As for the border issue, for reasons other than keeping desperate people out, I support secure borders. In this age of portable terrorism, it makes no sense to have gaping holes in our border security. I will leave it to the expertise of others to figure out the best way to accomplish this, but I doubt putting up millions of pictures of Dick Cheney along the border would be an effective measure (it would, though, work for me; I wouldn’t come within a mile of the border), nor would building thousands of miles of foreboding fence be a viable option. I do think, however, that if folks like the two pictured below were positioned at the border, it might keep the foreigners, dangerous or otherwise, away:
7. We should open up the legal process and expand opportunities for foreign workers to come here and do what they do best. This would help discourage illegal immigration and perhaps prevent the deaths of hundreds of migrant deaths each year. Such a process should also provide help for U.S. workers adversely affected, help such as financial assistance and job training or re-training.
8. As President Obama has said countless times, we should also make it easier for foreign students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to the nation’s well-being.
9. Step up law enforcement when it comes to employers hiring and financially abusing undocumented immigrants. Employers who knowingly hire folks without papers and who pay them sub-par wages should have to spend a year in Branson cleaning hotel rooms at the Baldknobbers Motor Inn. That should get their lawbreaking minds right.
10. We should also work more diligently with our nation-state neighbors closest to our southern border (about 80% of undocumented immigrants reportedly come from Mexico and other Latin American countries, which means we should focus our efforts there) in helping them better educate and better provide for their citizens, as well as fight people-traffickers who exploit horrific conditions and make a buck off fear and misery. Again, I will leave it to the experts to figure out how this could best be accomplished, but we should provide funding for a reasonable plan to help improve economic conditions.