Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Immorality of Anti-Immigrationism

Too many times, both here in the Bahamas as well as at home in the United States, I have heard otherwise good Christian people piously argue that illegal immigrants are "lawbreakers" and, therefore, undeserving of amnesty, social services, charity, or other forms of private or government assistance. Such piety, of course, fails to consider that laws are not necessarily morally neutral--let alone morally just--and that they often serve to protect the interests of the privileged at the expense of the underprivileged. For this reason, Martin Luther King, Jr. often quoted St. Augustine who once said, "An unjust law is no law at all." Such piety is also selective in that it is quite common for anti-immigrationists to rally around the slogan "send them home" while failing to seek prosecution of businesses who encourage illegal immigration by regularly hiring undocumented workers. And, in some instances (especially in the U.S.), such piety simply ignores the role the host country may have played in fostering or aggravating poor economic and political conditions abroad, thus forcing would-be immigrants to involuntarily and illegally migrate. More importantly, such piety blatantly disregards much of what the Bible has to teach us about how we should treat the poor, the marginalized, and the immigrant amongst us. A few days ago, Sean McKenzie over at Ethics Daily wrote a column that specifically addresses this latter issue. Hopefully, his thoughts will challenge us to rethink our understanding of how can respond to the crisis of immigration--wherever we might find it--in a more Christlike fashion.
Over and over in the Old Testament, we are admonished to be kind to "the widow, the orphan, and alien." In the New Testament Christ admonishes us to welcome the stranger: "When I was a stranger you took me in . . . whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, so also you do for me."

Christian opponents of immigration, however, have what they believe is a trump card even to Scripture: the rule of law. Illegal immigrants are breaking the law, and that is the most important consideration.

"Amnesty" opponents seem to believe that a hard-working, otherwise law-abiding immigrant is completely defined by the one law he or she breaks. But certainly we're not so harsh on ourselves. I've sped, jaywalked (illegal crossing) and as an 18-year-old even stole a grocery cart from a local shopping center to impress my Berry College dorm buddies.

Yet "amnesty" opponents see the crime of illegal immigration as somehow different and more serious. The crime is different, all right, but not for the reasons they imagine. It is a more- and not less-justifiable crime than speeding, jaywalking or youthful indiscretion.

These misdemeanors are committed for selfish reasons--not seriously bad, but selfish. Illegal immigration is often committed for much more admirable reasons.
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