Jack Van Ens
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December 28, 2013
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Vail Daily column: Show compassion toward immigrants

Before landing, flight attendants instruct passengers to “be cautious when opening overhead bins, as contents may have shifted.”

The content of immigration legislative reforms has experienced a societal shift in attitudes. Still, Republicans act like nothing’s changed. Since George W. Bush’s presidency, the U.S. has spent millions on border patrols and built massive fences to keep illegals from crossing the U.S.’s southern border.

Republicans convey vitality against immigration reform that goes beyond their capacity to understand shifts in public attitudes. Citizens are growing uneasy when the U.S. reminds them of an electrical power station posting perimeter warnings: “Private property. Danger! High voltage! Keep out!”

Mexican and South American borders crossers have planted roots in the U.S. Their children speak English without accent. These youth register for military duty. Their parents work at low-paying jobs most Americans shun. They get paid under the table and send cash to relative over the border. Immigrants show gratitude to the U.S. for the chance to survive and live at a higher economic level than their parents.

How many border crossings have there been? Nearly 12 million immigrants live in the U.S. illegally, reports the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

Jesus was an immigrant

Does it surprise you that the Bible depicts the Holy Family as border crossers? Most readers overlook this part of the Christmas story. Few regard Mary and Joseph, with Jesus in tow, as strangers, sojourners and aliens — synonyms for foreigners in a strange land.

Forced from home because King Herod wanted to murder their son, Mary and Joseph left town fast. “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’” (Matthew 2:14-15).

The Bible repeatedly describes those who don’t neatly fit in society as “strangers,” “sojourners” and “aliens.” Such synonyms sound obscure to us. A “stranger” is someone with whom we aren’t comfortable. A “sojourner” conjures up dusty pictures featuring Lawrence of Arabia leading wanderers in a desert. And “aliens” elicits weird vibrations, as if an extraterrestrial enemy invades planet Earth.

Somewhat reluctantly, biblical people learned God’s compassion embraced foreigners. Jewish law declared, “Love the sojourner, therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19.) Jesus likened the stranger to himself. When we meet strangers’ needs, it’s Jesus we are feeding, clothing and housing. (Matthew 25:31-46.)

Immigration reform is needed

Immigration reforms must be faced. If the GOP regards current legislation too comprehensive, let them forge ahead piece-meal. Prior to last Thanksgiving, President Obama said he’d OK passing a series of special bills rather than one major piece of legislation dealing with border-crossers.

“It’s Thanksgiving. We can carve that bird into several pieces,” the president declared. “As long as all the pieces get done and we actually deliver on the core values we’ve been talking about for so long, I think everybody’s fine with it.”

But some Republicans don’t approve of strangers, sojourners or aliens benefiting from a shopper’s cart of social services. They sound like William Butler Yeats in 1919 who warned, “Things fall apart; the center will not hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” While he was describing societal break-down spreading into the future, Yeats’ caution might as well apply to a “fast track towards citizenship,” which the GOP equates with amnesty for illegal border crossers.

Some who teach compassion for foreigners believe it’s dangerous to use biblical morality to construct sound fiscal policy. Morality and money shouldn’t be mixed, they say. Rabbi Aryeh Spero argues that compassion for the stranger shouldn’t supplant current immigration laws. He writes, “What the Bible, and Jesus had in mind was maintaining a person’s dignity on a subsistence level, not a full array of 2013 cradle-to-grave amenities.

“Nor did the Bible request that the decency we extend to strangers result in national suicide. It never encouraged a virtual open-border situation, where the host country is overrun and loses its indigenous culture, its laws or its ability to flourish as a unique and sovereign entity.” (Washington Times, “Seeking a Moral Approach to Immigration Reform,” Nov. 25.)

Such gibberish appeals to the GOP. Rabbi Spero isn’t for immigration reform, but he doesn’t want to admit it in print. So he writes convolutedly, like academics who say very little with many words. He insists on taking back what he just wrote. He likes what the Bible teaches about compassion to the stranger, sojourner and immigrant but doesn’t want it interfering with closed borders.

Republicans hedge on immigration reform because border crossers form a voting bloc that doesn’t endorse the GOP’s agenda.

God, who operates above political preference, sides with a compassion agenda which includes outsiders taking citizenship vows, even if they have crossed borders illegally to get here.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed at making God’s history come alive. For more information, visit www.thelivinghistory.com.

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The VailDaily Updated Dec 28, 2013 10:39PM Published Jan 8, 2014 07:27PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.