Q: Illegal immigrants are flouting U.S. laws, but does affluent America (or Arizona for that matter) have a larger moral or spiritual obligation to help illegal immigrants who are trying to better their lives? What about religious obligations to welcome the stranger? Are we our brother’s keeper?
My grandparents came to the United States from Poland during the early years of the 20th century. My great-grandmother sent her 17-year-old daughter to America, alone, to escape the pogroms. With the exception of one other son who went to Palestine, the others of my great-grandmother’s children were murdered in the Holocaust. My father began school at age six, not knowing a single word of English.
Perhaps it’s my personal history that makes me so outraged about the new immigration law in Arizona. It is nothing short of a full-frontal attack on people of Latino descent. I was also aghast a few weeks ago as Arizona also took steps against multicultural education. This is xenophobia at its worst. I’m confident that the immigration law will be found unconstitutional.
It’s as if the 70 percent of Arizonans who support the law have forgotten the Biblical injunction to “love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” A political cartoon I saw last week had a Native American standing in Arizona. In the first frame, the bubble over his head read, “Know who we call illegal immigrants in Arizona?” In the second frame, the answer: “White People.” They seem to have forgotten that America’s motto is E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) – or that as English writer, G.K. Chesterton, wrote more than a hundred years ago, “America is a home for the homeless…making a new nation out of any old nation that comes along.”
The Bible actually includes almost 120 passages about welcoming, taking care of, and loving the stranger. Early on in the story of God’s covenant with Abraham, three strangers come to Abraham and Sarah’s home and they are welcomed in with a lavish meal. The strangers turn out to be angels from God who bless them with news that they are to have a son at their advanced age. When Jesus is asked in Matthew 25 who will get into heaven, Jesus offers these criteria, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in.”
Loving the stranger was difficult in Biblical times; it’s difficult still. It means resisting the fear of difference and moving to a place of radical welcome and inclusion. And that means embracing people who are different than us without trying to change them. We can celebrate our diversity and our difference.
I am not an expert on immigration law, and I know that reform is necessary. But, I think draconian measures like Arizona’s or those that would eliminate health care coverage and education for children are morally wrong.
At its core, my faith commitment to the dignity and worth of all persons means that we do not regard any person as “illegal” or unworthy of basic human services. But these issues also intersect in more practical ways with my work for sexual and reproductive justice. What’s going to happen to pregnant Latinas in Arizona when they go to the hospital? What about when they visit a public health clinic for birth control? What happens to gay and lesbian immigrants whose life partners are U.S. citizens — but because there is no marriage equality, they are denied the immigration status that a straight couple would automatically receive? And what happens when we deny people public health services like immunizations that are necessary for the health of us all?
I’m proud of the work my denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association, is doing to organize against the law in Arizona, where many will join in protest in Phoenix this weekend. There is no question that issues of justice are interconnected, and so long as there is injustice for any group, there cannot be “liberty and justice for all.”