First Principles on Immigration

The Big Picture Home Page | Previous Big Picture Column |  Next Big Picture Column

First Principles on Immigration

Published in the Maryland Daily Record December 31, 2007

Those men and women trying to enter the country “illegally” are my brothers and sisters. We are all children of the same God, and that makes them my brothers and sisters. And if my brothers and sisters want to come and live with me, I am bound to welcome them. Those are my unabashed first principles on immigration.

Formed by those principles, I am increasingly turned off by the whole tone of the supposed “debate” going on about the subject right now, based on completely different principles. It does not speak to me at all.

To listen to the presidential candidates, particularly the Republican ones, I get the same what-planet-are-these-people-from? sense I used to have listening to the old Miller Lite commercials featuring disputes between the mindless adherents of “tastes great” and the brain-dead partisans of “less filling.” Both sides were so patently wrong (the beer was uninspiring, and you could still gain weight drinking it) that their mock contest didn’t seem to work even as humor, which usually requires some element of truth.

In the current immigration debate, the fight seems to lie between “more fences” and “less forgiveness,” and no one seems to have a clue how mean and uncharitable that sounds. Not to mention – once again – patently wrong, and not funny.

It takes a lot of gall for us to be talking about shutting our doors on others. Our dominant culture is the direct result of an immigration that asked for no one’s leave, a wave of white people and their African slaves which resulted in the overwhelming displacement of North America’s native culture. And that displacement was enforced with frequent acts of genocide, unlike anything our immigration-haters deplore about the new tide of Latinos.

So we set a precedent for ourselves that we’re not entitled to ignore now. If it was ok for our grievously usurping genetic and/or cultural ancestors to enter this land 400 years ago without asking permission, through Plymouth Rock and Jamestown and the Pacific Coast missions, then how can we refuse today’s far more peaceful immigrants at Brownsville and San Ysidro? It seems to me that if we claim the right to celebrate Thanksgiving, we have no business fortifying the Rio Grande.

It takes even more gall for us to be speaking of “amnesty.” That implies there is something to forget or forgive. Granting we have a right to control our borders (or try to anyway), that in no way implies the right to exclude large classes of people, for years, perhaps forever, which all too often is the impact of our visa laws, particularly on the poorest and least credentialed of our brothers and sisters. Laws that are so patently contrary to human rights cannot be binding on the human conscience or on the individual, and cannot be legitimately enforced. And it is especially cruel and vindictive to make the violation of those laws a justification for further denying the human rights of immigration and naturalization.

And what then do we say of the shameful use of the term “sanctuary city,” which stigmatizes efforts to minimize the cruelty of our immigration laws? In our current climate, “sanctuary” should be a badge of honor, not of opprobrium. It is amazing, too, that so many of those advocating the “tastes great” of immigration enforcement and the “less filling” of denying amnesty also profess to be Christians. Not for them the Congregationalist hymn by William Dunkerley, echoing the words of Matthew 8:11.

 In Christ there is no East and West
In Him no South and North
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

Not for them the example of Jesus, who learned this lesson himself at the hands of the Samaritan (i.e. alien) woman at the well, and who, for that matter, taught the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate (among other things) the unimportance of nationalities to human relationships. And yet these people call themselves Christians? Will someone explain how?

More amazing yet, these immigration foes seem to have lost faith in the American secular religion, a tenet of which is that we are so worthy and desirable a culture that everyone who comes here wishes to and does assimilate. They fear, I gather, that the gravitational pull of our culture on all comers has somehow faded. But when has it ever proved false? Every immigrant group speaks fluent English after two generations; every immigrant group’s members quickly imbibe all of our best features, like our bent for participatory democracy, and our worst, like rampant consumerism.

In saying all this, I do not mean disrespect to those who feel that immigrants are an economic threat or the somewhat smaller group for whom they are an actual threat. But I do maintain that economic impacts, however real or distressing, seldom if ever justify curtailing the exercise of human rights. In a contest between priorities, some must be paramount.

So what I wish I was hearing, instead of bickering over who ran a sanctuary city or who hired illegal aliens or who would build the most impregnable border, would be an acknowledgment that the aliens are not going away, that they have a basic human right to be here, and that it’s time to do, in the most expeditious possible way, whatever it takes to give our brothers and sisters legal status and the same chance as we give other immigrants to become citizens.

Is it too much to ask? Am I the only one who feels this way?

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn

The Big Picture Home Page | Previous Big Picture Column |  Next Big Picture Column

Leave a Reply