"Illegal Immigration" and American Inhumanity

As the immigration debates have heated up in national politics recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing inhumanity in the language used to talk about these people. Let me emphasize the word we should use: people. I grew up in a small town in Colorado with a relatively high number of immigrants from Mexico in its population. My high school friends used to joke about them. For example, in an American History class our teacher started listing statistics. After she gave the number of illegal immigrants living in Western Colorado, one student whose family owned a fruit ranch near town interjected, “And half of ’em work for me!”

I had a few Mexican friends in high school, but for the most part stayed within the boundaries of the social segregation that was assumed in my hometown. After finishing school at the University of Colorado, though, I worked in a grocery store where half of my coworkers were Mexican, and many, if not most, of them were undocumented immigrants. Through the little bit of Spanish I learned in high school and the little bit of English they learned in the workplace, we talked, learned each others’ stories, and came to share profound amounts of respect for each others’ lives.

One of my supervisors had worked multiple fast food jobs, supporting a wife and kids on that thin wage for over a decade before finally getting the better job at our grocery store. Another man never learned much more English than “how can I help you” and “thank you very much”, but was the hardest worker in the department and supported his wife and kids on that slim wage as well. Yet another man sought to continue climbing the ladder by applying for a promotion to “coffee-specialist”, and even though he knew the job and the product inside and out, couldn’t get the job because he didn’t speak enough English.

Then came the month where the store did a “social security audit” verifying the SSNs of all their employees. Some numbers, of course, came back with problems. To protect the company, many of my friends were let go gracefully, given two months to find another job rather than being fired immediately. The man who was my trainer told me with tears in his eyes, “We all know this happens. It is sad. But we will find other jobs.” He started looking for work in construction, others went to landscaping, and still others back to fast food. Their lives were uprooted, the relationships they’d built destroyed, and their years of hard work wiped away.

Seeing their pain and their struggle, their efforts to make a living, to provide for their children, and still have money to send back to family in Mexico, makes an impression. It is easy to talk about “illegal immigrants” the way the newspapers do. But when you’re talking about mis amigos de esa tienda de abarottes, you realize they are real people.

Maybe that’s why I got so upset with the “letters to the editor” in the newspapers today: A previous article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had pointed out that our European ancestors were illegal immigrants when the Mayflower washed ashore. An astute point. Today a local woman responded by writing “The [Native] culture was nearly destroyed in the process and thousands were killed through disease and a genocidal cleansing of land. . . . We should remember what happens to a people who don’t [sic] control their borders to illegal immigration.” Grammatical idiocy aside, this woman was insensitive enough to suggest that these people would bring disease and genocide to American culture! Another example: In a recent letter to the editor in my hometown newspaper, The Delta County Independent, a man likened immigrants to “a truckload of worms that has been progressively multiplying for decades.”

Immigrants are not worms. They are not here to destroy our country. They are here because they are real people, seeking real ways to support their families, and trying to give their children a better life.

Now add to this basic human right the theological truths that we Christians believe: Abraham was an alien in a foreign land, as were the Israelites in Egypt and later in captivity in Babylon. In the Incarnation, Jesus Christ came as a foreigner to our level of humanity. Since Christ came, Christians have recognized that we are all aliens in a strange land, not at home until we arrive in heaven. We are, in St. Augustine’s terms, the City of God dwelling within the City of Man. The letter of First Peter opens by calling us “strangers in the world”. How can we, strangers in the world, blessed by the immigrations of our spiritual forbearers, deny justice to immigrants in our own nation today?

Think on the words of Malachi 3:5 (NIV): “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.

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3 comments
  1. Jimmy Bollinger said:

    another good post Chris!

    This has been a topic I’ve been struggling with. I remember a few weeks ago, at the missions conference I went to, this passage was referred to:

    “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34

    I think you make a great point about a lot of past immigration movements that have been “illegal”. I think the truth is now that we’re afraid these people here will take our jobs for a lower wage, our majority will become a minority and that they will refuse to conform to our national culture, all of which I think is a load of crap, but is an issue with our rising living costs and job shortages.

    I think there is a legitimate argument about national security and an even greater problem with drug trafficking, but 95% of the people coming across are just ordinary people like you and me looking for a better life, just as what happened with our ancestors.

    I think the real problem is that our government has become so constrictive about legal immigration that people have no choice but to come across illegally. In my mind, I think 3 factors should determine whether a person can enter this country and become a citizen:
    1) Check police records, make sure they aren’t criminals
    2) The person either has a job in line or the qualifications to take a job (some way of sustaining themselves, we need them to be contributing to the country in some way — many of them are now)
    3) They are willing to adopt and adapt to the culture here, after all many of us make an effort to adapt to other cultures even when we travel.

    It does bother me though that they knowingly cross the border in an illegal fashion and it sends a message that they have no respect for the authorities.

    So, I think a better effort can be made on both sides to help these people come to our homeland and also obey the law in the process. I think We the People can do a much better job in assisting foreigners to legally enter the country and put pressure on our government to ease the choke collar they have on legal immigration right now, but also refuse to cooperate with illegals that come across. This doesn’t mean degrading them or not being loving towards them, but rather encouraging them to go back and come in legally and I think also more importantly share the love of Jesus with them that no matter where they live, they will be cared for. I think many of these people feel like their lives are going nowhere and feel compelled to turn to money and the US as a means to get it. As Christians we need to be reaching out to them and telling them that the only thing that matters is having a relationship with Christ, that this life is temporary and although they may live now in poverty, they live richly and eternally in Christ. Realistically the US cannot take on the entire 3rd world as a part of this country, so we need to help people to understand that and help them to be content with what they have, even if it is very little and work to aid them in their homeland.

    But for those that are here already, they are now a part of our culture, we need to just accept that, welcome them with open arms and do what we can to help them assimilate.

  2. Jim Jordan said:

    Hello again
    Good post. Everywhere we look our immigration system is broken. One thing many people here overlook are the effects of “Free Trade Agreements” with Latin American countries.
    The Conagras and Microsofts of the USA are free to trade with Mexico’s bigwigs, but what free trade is there for the average worker? What does he/she receive when they go to markettheir skills?

    Our system of employment authorization is slow to the point of criminal neglect. There are no demands for minimum wage laws and workers’ rights worth mentioning in our agreements with other countries. Conagra and Microsoft – OK – Jose the roofer – Vete, pendejo!. The worker suffers under the medieval feudal system if he stays in disastrous Ol’ Mexico, or makes a few dollars more, but still below market while walking on eggs in the US. Oddly enough, it seems to be working itself out.

    Good Word,
    Jim

  3. Anonymous said:

    Nice colors. Keep up the good work. thnx!
    »

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