Immigration’s moral mandate

Jim Cole AP Fartun Sengow, from Somalia, now living in Concord, N,H., holds a sign during a rally for immigrants … Continued

Jim Cole


Fartun Sengow, from Somalia, now living in Concord, N,H., holds a sign during a rally for immigrants and refugees at the State House in Concord, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration law on Monday, June 25, 2012. The court struck down key provisions of the law but said the portion requiring police to check the status of someone they suspect is not in the United States legally could go forward. Still, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges.

As providence would have it, I was visiting the old courthouse in St. Louis on the day President Obama announced that his administration would no longer deport undocumented immigrants under the age of 30. I was on a reconnaissance mission in preparation for an upcoming family reunion. The old courthouse in St. Louis is dedicated to the story of Harriet and Dred Scott, two enslaved African Americans who sued for their freedom in the Missouri court. A jury from that state set Scott and his family free, but the decision was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in one of its most inhumane, racist and badly reasoned decisions.

The biblical moral imperative is to welcome the stranger, to love the alien, because God’s people are to remember their own history of slavery. If any of us look deep enough into our own family heritage, we will find the historical moment when our ancestors were enslaved or strangers in the land or both. Biblical wisdom says:

“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

“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 19:34)

“And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

“’In whatever tribe the aliens settle, there you are to give him his inheritance,’ declares the sovereign LORD.” (Ezekiel 47:23)

The president’s announcement was welcome news to young undocumented immigrants who call themselves “dreamers.” They are the young people who were brought to the United States as children by their parents, who do not have criminal records, who are working and going to school or who want to serve in the military. They would be allowed to stay in the country and begin the process of becoming citizens had the Dream Act passed during the lame duck session of the 111th Congress. Republicans blocked the measure.

During the Republican presidential primary, candidate Mitt Romney said that he would veto the Dream Act. Now he will not say whether or not he would uphold President Obama’s decision.

However, the main thing to keep in mind is that these young people ought not to be considered mere pawns on a political chess board. They are living breathing human beings with hopes, dreams, gifts, graces, and growing edges. They are no different from any one of us. We want a better life for ourselves and for our children.

When I was visiting the old courthouse, I bought a book by Ruth Ann (Abels) Hager-“Dred &Harriet Scott: Their Family Story.” This book describes the lives of the families –enslaved and free–involved in this story. It reminds us of the meaning of slavery, that one does not decide for oneself where to live or for whom one will work. And, most important, it reminds me that slavery was a matter of the economic advantage of one population over the other.

According to Hager, the Scotts wanted their freedom not only for themselves but for the sake of their two daughters, Eliza and Lizzie. Since the Scotts where urban slaves, they were hired out to work for wages that went to their owners. The condition of servitude of children followed that of the mother. Further, enslaved families lived under the constant fear that family members would be sold away, never to be seen again.

During the decade that it took for this case to wind its way through the legal system, the Scotts kept their daughters in hiding. History has not yet revealed who hid them. But Hager thinks the effects of living in hiding had a lifelong impact on Lizzie. She writes: “Behavior patterns Lizzie may have learned in hiding-telling no one who she really was, drawing no attention to herself, fading into the background as much as possible, making no friends who might want to know something about her-defined how she would live the rest of her life.”

When I think of the life of undocumented immigrants, that they live within the ambiguity of a nation that wants their cheap labor but that also does not want them as competition for college educations or for better jobs, when I think of their lives lived in the shadows, I remember the history of African American people. The national birth defect of slavery labeled people a lesser humanity because it wanted to only profit from them. We should not show the same inhumanity to undocumented immigrants.

When I remember the history of African American people I can only applaud President Obama’s decision and pray for a Congress that has the moral courage to expand his vision into law.


    Don’t you guys watch Ancient Aliens? The bible is referring to visitors from outer space.

    Don’t see any comparison to slavery. They came here of their own free will and they are free to leave. The things that are not free are the services they tap into, welfare, food stamps, medical care, law enforcement, incarceration…
    Liberals in some areas have even tried to pass legislation giving them preferential treatment over citizens in college benefits.


    Let’s hope the new President will be able to improve conditions in Mexico. A stable, safe and prosperous Mexico will do more to end this issue than anything we can do here in the U.S.

    If he can’t get the job done perhaps they should try a Hispanic Spring?

  • sherrifrdrck

    Slaves are shackled and shipped a half world away. Even when they were freed, they couldn’t just walk back home. Illegals snuck over here and they weren’t forced to do so. This article is like comparing silver to aluminum foil.

  • Laura23

    They obviously came here for a reason. The escaped from a certain situation in their country thinking that here everything would be alright but now they are being tormented once again. Let them be in peace!

  • bigpapa_z

    Very convenient for the liberals to all-of-a-sudden find the Bible useful.

  • WhittRak82

    I am really trying hard to understand this. Why not deport those under the age of 30?

  • WhittRak82

    A lot of people do not find the Bible useful, not just liberals.

  • nonpareil

    Supposedly, everyone in the world is an American–some of them just haven’t gotten here yet. Who really believes this country will be a better place with 400 million? 500 million? It’s already trashed as it is. Enough, already. We should have said that a generation ago, but better late than never.

  • Carole B. Belgrade

    Professor Dixon: I too concur with Obama’s policy regarding undocumented students and others who seek to call the USA – their home. It is long over due. In prior administrations since 9/11, the gneral policy was treat undocumented aliens as non entities, ‘potential terriorists’ and other comments dehumanizing their status and that of ttheir families.
    As a nation, the United States has a long to way to go to address injustices committed in the name of ‘homeland secuirty’.

  • mark0004

    So the American taxpayer should foot the bill educating and supporting these illegals and thier anchor babies? How much more can the taxpayers take?


    The INTENT of the 14th Admendment was not for a person or PLUS 12,000,000 people coming into our country unlawfully to receive citizenship. Just to cbtain the LATINO vote to change our correct immigration laws is unconditionly WRONG. Congress should look at Canada immigration point system for correct change to get quality immigration so that America can stay as a leading nation. If a American enter another nation illegally, where do you think that American would end up?

  • linmouat3

    Firstly, african-americans weren’t the only group enslaved, many of the europeans who came here experienced slavery. The young people we’re talking about aren’t slaves. Most of their parents have been productive members of our society. I see them more as political pawns. I believe they are at heart American’s. The government hasn’t created an equitable policy to deal with illegals. It’s time they did their job.

    The president’s proposal restricts the kinds of people who qualify for this amnesty. I find that troubling. High school graduate, college degree, military service, exclusive amnesty. You can be an upstanding person, a mom, dad, son, daughter, a hardworking taxpayer. Do we exclude them?

    On the tv program “Border Wars,” there was a young mother who was caught trying to cross illegally. Her story should touch us all. She’s 25 and came to the US first as a child. Not long ago someone told her if she went back to her childhood home in Mexico, someone there would help her get legal status in the States. But her efforts failed, leading her to being caught trying to sneak in. The thing is, she’s a mom with a child in California. It was the choice of her parents that brought her to the US. Now she’s caught in a no-man’s hell.

    It’s imparative to find a solution.

  • Pilot1

    The slaves came here against there will the Illegals came of their own free will to take from this country and have done real damage to it. No comparison. What about all the decendents of slaves that were run out of work by them? I am in construction and remember when the crews were about 50/50 white and black. This was around 1985, by 1995 the mix was about 5% black, 20% white and 75% hispanic. The VP of the company said early on the hispanics would run the blacks out and they did. Now after putting them out of work they are taxing the system of government benifits leaving less for everyone again hurting blacks. But as usual the left is committing suicide for some misguided idea of how things should be not the way they are.

  • Pilot1

    So we should allow an unlimited flow of welfare dependents to come into this country. Maybe she should take her kid to Mexico, I am sure there is no daddy in the picture.

  • Pilot1

    The 14th amendment needs to be changed so that only children of a mother who is a legal permanent resident of this country qualify to be a citizen. As it is now they come across the border with water broke so they can get on our taxpayer funded gravy train. If you stop putting nuts out the squirrels will stop coming.

  • somebodystolemynamefatboy

    An endless supply of cheap labor pushes down the wages of all working people, and it is contributing to the economic disaster in the African American community.

  • Drewbueno

    Using the Bible as the basis for advocating policies for a secular institution like the U.S. Government should always be done with the utmost care. Before someone delivers a message like the one here, they should consider whether other Christians could reasonably disagree. In other words, is it a moral non-negotiable? If it isn’t universally immoral to deport an individual unlawfully present in America – doing so in a humane way with appropriate due process – back to their respective home country, then don’t cause disunity in the body of Christ over something that doesn’t have eternal implications.

    If someone blows by that test then, at the very least, the Bible shouldn’t be quoted selectively (as Ms. Dixon unquestionably does here).

    The nexus between Biblical values and policy-making is a tough one. There are many commands for the individual Christian to follow (in their freedom in Christ) that would be ill-advised to make national policy. C.S. Lewis addresses this briefly in Mere Christianity. I’d be interested to know what Ms. Dixon thinks about the rest of immigration policy as well (is she for expanding the number of visas, or does she subscribe to Barbara Jordan’s recommendations?). Hopefully she’ll write a follow-up.

  • VanillaSuburbs

    More sentimental, meaningless nonsense form the pro-illegal alien crowd.

  • VanillaSuburbs

    People who sneak in to America with no respect for our laws are in no way comparable to slaves.

  • JaneNo-Dough

    Illegal immigrants aren’t being bought and sold, so this has nothing to do with the Dream Act or anything else for that matter.
    ‘Illegal’ means just that-against the law. The parents came here illegally and have plenty of time to get their citizenship. The children that are over 18 can now apply for a visa and during that time apply for citizenship. If Congress wants to give the children access to schooling, so be it, but the parents need to pay for it. They are not citizens and should not receive the same preference as citizens nor Federal or State money. Sorry, this may seem harsh, but ‘illegal’ is ‘illegal’ and there are legal ways of taking care of the problem and these should be used. We have a lot of immigrants that came to this country for a better life and went about it the ‘legal’ way and deserve the respect of the United States to instill those same laws to everyone following them.