WHAT IS A COMPASSIONATE VIEW OF IMMIGRATION?
It seems to me that we have a conflict of compassionate perspectives when it comes to immigration. Sometimes we hear stories of undocumented immigrants who are caught by the reality that though they live in the U.S., possibly came here legally but overstayed their visa, or were brought here by their parents but now because of the law may be sent back to a home they no longer acknowledge, nor do they wish to return.
I have been asked by pastors what to do with someone their church has come to love and to whom they have shown mercy, but the only way they can survive is in a hidden economy, and surviving with the constant dread and anxiety of being caught and deported. How can a local church help them, past consulting with lawyers, providing emergency food and transportation to church, maybe even housing? What the person need’s is a legal job, but that is one thing the church can’t provide without actively breaking the law. However, no matter how desperate things seem to get the person will not willingly return to their country of origin. They wait to find someone to marry, or for the law to change in the hopes that they can stay. Most churches come to the end of what they can legally do and continue to assist in some frustrated manner as they wait to see, with the individual, how the story will play out.
Whether individuals or churches become advocates for changes in the immigration law or not it is the immediate response to human need and the limitations of only being able to do so much that usually frustrates them. Advocacy is the long fight while mercy is the near fight right in front of them. On top of this are the moral and ethical dilemmas of seeing some wonderful people live in a shadow world where they choose to break laws to make a living, such as false or stolen identity, driving without a license, fake social security numbers, or living off of a cash economy and not paying taxes.
While it is understandable for people to want a better life, I admit some Americans find it difficult to feel a lot of compassion for people who have lived a lie only because they want to make more money, or live better materially, but face neither real poverty nor political or religious persecution back home. Some of these folks knowingly took advantage of the visa program and stayed when they should have gone home, and now realize that if they do go home voluntarily they will have to wait years before they can ever ask to come back to a country they have come to love.
Americans can be in favor of a generous immigration policy while wanting people to obey the laws we have created to make immigration somewhat of an orderly process. No matter the many stories that seem to show America, and Americans, resistant to a flood of undocumented aliens the truth is that we allow many thousands of refugees to enter and live in our country every year, besides those who apply to legally emigrate from their own country through embassies.
There is another perspective about compassion beside the immediate concern of a desperate individual or family and their fear of being sent back to their country of origin. This is a larger concern about the incentive for migration that inadequate and inept policies, laws, and enforcement have created so that people foolishly risk their lives. Most of us have heard horrible stories of “coyotes” and smugglers exploiting people, of sometimes tragic endings to trips across the desert, or folks who die in shipping containers. I don’t know if anything has matched what has been happening in the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands have drowned attempting to reach Europe.
Another way of being compassionate is to make laws enforceable and sensible so that a tempting incentive doesn’t lead people to take unreasonable risk. Migration has been a constant of human existence. It is rare that migration doesn’t come without some kind of conquest, either in a militaristic or cultural sense. If these migrations were actually invasions nations would fight to protect themselves. They would see the coming of hundreds of thousands of “foreigners” as an attempt to supplant the indigenous folks, or to eradicate their cultural and religious traditions. These modern migrations don’t have tyrants, conquerors, or generals behind them but they are culturally transformative even so. Do nations have a right to protect themselves from that?
Europe especially faces this question, and it is exacerbated by the migration of religious populations that do not want to assimilate into the majority culture. Certainly when the Europeans came to North America they weren’t interested in assimilating into Native American culture, rather they wanted to convert the natives, or supplant them by killing them, depending on which group of Europeans one reads about.
The struggle in the U.S.A. is not the supplanting of Ketchup by Salsa as the number one condiment, but the resistance of some immigrant groups to assimilate into our political and linguistic culture, and the despising of a broken immigration system. The hype about immigrant crime, about exploitation of government aide and resources, and even about Democratic party use of the issue to gain votes isn’t statistically worth the amount of print or verbal debate used on it. We have more than enough indigenous crime and abuse of the welfare system to reveal that immigrants mostly work hard, very hard, and take care of themselves compared to many of our born here citizens. We won’t protect ourselves from bad people by building bigger fences, but by building a better and more just immigration system, and allowing people with an aspiring work ethic to help build the wealth of our nation.
It is my expectation that nations will become more conservative in regard to receiving massive amounts of immigrants, legal or illegal, legitimate refugees or not. They will stop adhering to the United Nations standards of providing safety for these migrants, and they will send them home or refuse to help them. This will especially be true of those nations in the developing world that become “holder” type nations, near neighbors of places from which people are fleeing but which do not have their own resources or infrastructure to care for such large groups of people. It is becoming all too commonplace for huge refugee camps to exist for too many years, condemning whole generations of children to grow up in them as a displaced people. War and famine, but slow national and international adjustments to these realities as well, create horrible results.
For us in America we have to figure out how we can remain true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants, even those forced here by slavery, and provide a sensible, just, and compassionate avenue for the huge amount of folks who want (at risk of exploitation, loss of their wealth, loss of life, and detention) to come and live here. It is not compassionate to simply throw the doors open and think this will solve the problem, it will in actuality make it worse, and create a stampede which will inevitably trample those attempting to get here and create a fresh xenophobia. Since our political hysteria has created a paralysis of using our American ingenuity and “can do” attitude we are now beset with a minority sub-culture of “illegals.” This issue is so full of political demagoguery that any possible leadership on the issue gets sabotaged by the ideological extremists of either party. Somebody in politics hear me, “stop using fear and give us some creative solutions!”
No matter the political attractiveness of a self-righteous call for “no amnesty,” we have to figure out a way of clearing the table for a just system. Clearing the table means an over-haul of how we identify every person who is here in the shadow world and bring them into the light, and make them legal in some form or fashion. We must find a way to incentivize this path. In the case of real criminals they should be imprisoned enough so they won’t just come right back after a fast deportation. If we do this in such a way as to make it clear enough, attractive enough, arduous enough, systematic enough, and inviolable enough from cheating or gaming the system, we can then reform how large the doorway is for new aspiring and legal immigrants. That doorway is too small, and too confusing, and just invites cheating. My call is for a renewal of American generosity, a reform of a broken system, and a strong and enforceable policy that cannot be easily circumvented.