Sunday, January 31, 2010

By Invitation Only

This morning after church I was handed a copy of Bender’s Immigration Bulletin of January 1, 2010, which purports to analyze "What the Bible Really Says about Immigration Policy…(" by Bruce and Judy Hake, who associate themselves with the advocacy of “merciful” immigration laws—and asked to comment on what they have to say.

The Hake's are contrasting the pro-open immigration policy supported in a book by Donald Kerwin and Jill Marie Gerschutz (You Welcomed Me: Immigration and Catholic Social Teaching) and an article for the Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder: A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy by James R. Edwards Jr., Ph.D., that is opposed. The Hake's also refer to an article they wrote in 1998 that supports open immigration.

Obviously, I haven't read the Kerwin book, which is available on Amazon. com and has a single five star review (and no others). I wouldn't recommend it on the strength of the Hake's discussion. 

Both the Hake's and Dr. Edwards look to the Bible for guidance on the issue of illegal immigration into the United States (I know I will be chastised by open immigration advocates for using the term "illegal," but it seems straight forward and factual to me).  Edwards' discussion allows some hedging: "On some matters of public policy, the Bible speaks clearly," he points out, "On other issues, there is less clarity and more room for prudential judgment. The rub comes where there is a lack of scriptural clarity on a particular issue."

Lack of clarity may very well be the case here, although the Hake's appear not to believe so. The strength of their argument is "many passages from the Old and New Testaments regarding the imperative of generosity to foreigners." They also speak of "a mainstream Catholic social justice view" and cite catechism. The extent of their conviction (or might I say prejudice) is the statement that "[o]ur own instinct is to regard the CIS article as discredited before even reading it."

Their argument is further spoiled on a number of occasions by attempts to slur Edwards and those who disagree with themselves as "nativists," perhaps even "racists" (note the quote from the Southern Poverty Law Center  on the third page). The Center for Immigration Studies is an "anti-foreigner propaganda outlet," while, oddly, a site associated with the American Immigration Lawyers Association is recommended as "genuinely neutral." In fairness to the Hake's they do footnote Mark Krikorian, executive director of the CIS, writing that "Free Speech is Great, But...The open-borders lobby's attempt to silence its critics."

But what about the arguments? To be generous to strangers or foreigners? Clearly this admonition appears throughout the Bible, beginning, the Hakes suggest, in Genesis when God says to Abraham: "And to you and to your descendants after you, I shall give the country where you are now immigrants, the entire land of Canaan, to own in perpetuity." But I wonder, "to own"? Does not ownership imply control over?

The Hake's also cite Matthew 25: 

"The the King will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. /For I was hungry and you gave me food,  I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me."

But skeptic that I am, I think that the kingdom prepared for believers is in Heaven, not on Earth. And food, drink, clothing, care...compassion? Yes, I'd say--but residency, citizenship??  This is not at all clear, the Hake's further recitation of the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Golden rule notwithstanding. 

Edwards provides, to my mind, a useful distinction: government is required to exercise justice, and occasionally to act with mercy. The two are "complementary," but not synonymous. 

Writes Edwards: "Government's exercise of mercy is more challenging that its role in ensuring justice. Examples of mercy in public policy exist; for instance, granting a criminal a pardon or parole before he serves out his prison sentence, having proportionality for punishment of a crime (e.g., an eye for an eye, rather than a life for an eye). But most such policies aim in a rifle-shot fashion at individual cases, and often they involve some level of merit."

He adds: "When considering mercy as public policy, however, an important distinction must be drawn. Nor every moral or ethical teaching in the Bible fits cleanly or applies equally to both individuals and societies...Legislating mercy requires prudence, restraint, and good judgment...[because] the practical consequences of civil government's 'mercy' are actually borne by the citizenry." 

The consequences here could and honestly have included lawlessness (gangs, drugs), a drain on the public treasury (education, medical care), and the taking of jobs from citizens (especially the least educated). There has also been the tendency (in opposition to Biblical passages Edwards' cites on immigration into the Biblical Jewish state) of recent illegal immigrants to resist assimilation into the host culture. Of course there is also the history of immigration enriching our nation over the course of centuries, but there remains the difference, the need for assimilation that is lost in the chorus for multi-culturalism today. The Hake's assert in their own article that "there is no evidence that the American melting pot has stopped working." It's an assertion that is coming under increasing negative scrutiny in this country today.

Personally, like most Americans, I am conflicted on the immigration issue. I recognize that I am the granddaughter and great-grandaughter of immigrants (albeit legal entrants). As a Christian I do want to alleviate suffering in the world, but as a practical (former) New Englander, I don't believe open immigration does much of anything permanent for the rest of the world (for example, Mexico) as the U.S. tries to absorb its brightest or its most discontent. Better (more practical), I think, is putting pressure on the Mexican government to improve; better is pushing for a decent government in Haiti or ending the genocide in Sudan than attempting to receive all the world's hurting. 

The Hake's do admit in their own position paper from 1998 that "The United States has been far and away the most generous nation in world history in its treatment of foreigners"and "Compared to other countries, current U.S. policy is angelic." At the same time, it's true, I think, that current U.S. policy is ineffective: protecting neither American citizens from potential security breaches nor improving the lot of foreign populations. We should do better.

Last night Dale and I watched a National Geographic documentary (God Grew Tired of Us) that tells the story of three "lost boys" of Sudan, raised in a refugee camp in Kenya, who are brought to the U.S. to begin new lives. Of these three, one receives his bachelor degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh, marries a childhood sweetheart, finds his brother, and plans to return to Africa to start a school. A second, brings his mother and sister to this country and supports them, sends money to other family members in Africa and to the refugee camp of lost boys, forms an NGO to build a medical clinic in Africa and along with holding three jobs, goes to the University of Syracuse to earn a bachelor's degree. The third is unable to locate family members and remains working gainfully in this country.

This is the kind of seed immigration we need to support. This is the kind of immigration that spreads benefits here and abroad. The Hake's cite "the enlightened perspective" of The Wall Street Journal in favor of an open immigration policy because the modern, globally interconnected world requires free movement of goods, capital, information...and thus labor. But this perfect balance has certainly not arrived, and some of the policies (free movement of goods, for one) are stridently opposed by the same people who are pushing an open immigration policy. Rather than an open policy, we need a common sense policy that promotes continued U.S. strength: economic, cultural, constitutional. And, believe it or not, that's best for the poor nations of the world as well: that we should be strong enough to offer effective aid to their peoples.

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