Immigration: Seeking a Middle Way
The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
Immigration is one of the most divisive issues we face. In this posting I am seeking a moderate even somewhat conservative approach especially for me. (See # 1 & 6 below.) I begin with several propositions about immigration and then seek a spiritual model in the feeding of the five thousand as related in the Gospel of Matthew. Immigration is not separate from our spiritual development. How we approach it reflects a great deal about our spiritual priorities and values.
I also acknowledge that I am an immigrant to this country coming here in 1950 when I was three years old. I live in the privilege of knowing this was a time when America welcomed many immigrants. While my family’s accents set us slightly apart the fact of our whiteness made it much easier. America needed immigrants then to serve as factory workers to fuel the expected industrial explosion. The situation is very different today.
1. I am not personally opposed to the government closing the boarders and controlling who enters. Any country has the right to decide on the qualifications of those seeking residency.
2. I am entirely and utterly opposed to the barbaric, racist, trauma inducing, hate filled way in which our government is conducting itself. Patriotism is reduced to racism and “America first” is reduced to “America only.” And in many quarters, it means “White America only.”
3. I doubt that the people presently in charge are capable or motivated to do this in any other way.
4. We desperately need reliable data to guide our policies. It is an item of unquestioned belief among the alt-rt that immigrants are dangerous criminals. We are inundated with myth, fear mongering and racist diatribe but no evidence. How many immigrants are in fact arrested? How many break the law? I am willing to bet that these statistics are available in many private foundation studies.
5. From the positive side, power companies report that they face a crucial shortage of electrical engineers in the near future. They are offering huge scholarships to students. Immigrants may fit into this very well.
6. I would support a policy that automatically deports any immigrant who is convicted of two felonies especially if they involve violent crimes. One strike gets another chance. Two strikes and you are gone.
7. We need a policy that makes generous room for those seeking asylum from violence and drug cartels. This needs to be carefully defined with regulations strictly enforced.
8. There is a need for a national commission to study immigration that establishes national priorities.
These are simply eight concerns which I currently think about. I am sure that there are many more of which experts are aware. What I am sure of is that a rational dialogue needs to begin.
One of the places where I see a model for issues of immigration is in the miracle of feeding of the five thousand. It is the only miracle that is in all four gospels. The Gospel of Matthew comments that the number five thousand results from only counting men as was the custom at the time which means the total could easily have been closer to ten thousand.
Miracles in the Gospels exhibit the qualities of the Kingdom of God. They are not primarily a show of supernatural power or magical ability.
Jesus and his disciples had worked very hard and traveled a great deal that day. He had just heard about the death of his friend John The Baptist and wanted to withdraw from the crowd. They took a boat across a lake. However, the crowd that had gathered ran around the lake to be with them. The disciples seemed very annoyed and intimidated by this and urged Jesus to send them away. But Matthew records that Jesus had compassion for them. He taught and performed healings for a period of time. But as the day grew late the disciples again appealed to Jesus that they should leave. It must have been a bit scary facing this sea of humanity who were getting restless and hungry. They were in a remote area that was perhaps similar to the country side around our own border with Mexico. There were few resources. The disciples urged Jesus to send the crowds to nearby towns for supplies. That way the throng would be someone else’s problem. (I doubt that any of them suggested separating children from parents.) At this point Jesus says, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Disciples inventory their supplies and discover ten loaves of bread and two fish. He instructs the disciples to sit the entire crowd in groups of fifty. He then blesses the food and disciples begin distribution until all had eaten and “were satisfied.”
Typical interpretations of this event reduce it to a miracle of increasing the number of loaves and fish, a miracle of increasing matter. The alternative interpretation is it is a miracle of increasing welcoming and love. The disciples did as instructed giving everything they had. The crowd seeing this sacrifice reached into their own cloaks and shared what they had. People did not travel far from home without supplies in case of emergencies. This became a miracle of love, compassion and sharing among total strangers who often were at odds with each other. What the story is saying is that this is how things are in The Kingdom of God. That all people are welcomed and treated with great compassion and when this is done all are fed and satisfied.
Crowds come to our boarders and in this story, we are told to respond with compassion and care. Our leaders tell us that these people are dangerous and that we do not have enough resources but this Biblical story reminds us that this is not so.