Unless you’ve lived under a cloud for the last several months, illegal immigration appears to have become a distressing issue. Just raising the issue is almost guaranteed to extract diverse viewpoints with such passion that common everyday people burst into open battle.
Going back to New York’s Statue of Liberty where thousands of immigrants passed nearly a century ago and query, “What’s the most famous quote on the Statue of Liberty?” One may receive the following:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Contrast New York to Texas. In a recent speech of floor of the US House of Representative’s, Texas’ Republican Representative Louie Gohmert compared the surge of migrant children to soldiers invading France during World War II. “Our continued existence is at risk with what’s going on at the southern border,” he explained. Gohmert also added that the Department of Homeland Security was complicit because it had “… actually assisted the criminal conspiracy in achieving its illegal goals” by not enforcing the law. Gohmert also asked Texas Governor Rick Perry to “use whatever means,” including troops, ships of war, or taxes to “stop the invasion.”
Immigration is a significantly difficult topic. However, all I’ve seen is an overt form of racism and the dehumanization of children. This form of racism often centers upon protecting national borders, i.e., “the American way of life.” Additionally, news sound bites profess to economic costs, added pressures to schools, disease, and law enforcement. These may be legitimate issues, but there is no explicitly Christian orientation to the debate.
If you want to focus Biblically, then one needs to go no further than 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.“
Instead of that, our current form of Southern Conservatism slaps a heavy dose of naive anti-intellectualism with bullshit. As Reverend Cornel West noted, “the fundamentalist Christians want to be fundamental about everything, except ‘love thy neighbor.’“
In truth, all of us are immigrants and sojourners in the world.
Early Buddhism is mostly silent on immigration. And while it’s hard to argue against enforcing the law, we should also be looking at what compels many people to risk their lives and freedom crossing into the US illegally. Could it be that our own economic policies perpetuate injustice and poverty in their countries? Could our political and military actions be undercutting democratic movements and propping up unpopular and oppressive dictators? Instead, we should work hard to reverse the trend of poverty and injustice. If their lives are better in their home country, then I’m sure they’ll be more patient with the legalities of proper immigration.
The Statue of Liberty quote originated from Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, ‘New Colossus.’ New Colossus was written for the pedestal fundraiser upon which the Statue of Liberty rests. In it’s entirety, New Colossus is as follows:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Ms. Lazarus’ poem did not receive much recognition and was forgotten soon after the fundraiser. However, maybe we should be shunning the lamp of ignorance and give the huddled masses an opportunity to breath free.