Saturday, April 08, 2006

Finding a Way

“We will work with each other, we will work side by side.
We will work with each other, we will work side by side.
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

- From “We Are One in the Spirit” by Peter Scholte (1966)

Yesterday brought more of the continuing stream of good news on the economic front:

“Employers added 211,000 jobs in a springtime hiring burst that benefited almost all sectors of the economy and lowered the national unemployment rate to 4.7 percent.”

The numbers are very good indeed. They reflect an economy that has just about reached what economists call “full employment.”

Another positive development was the rise in wages reported by the Labor Department. March numbers revealed that American workers are now making an average of $16.49 per hour in return for their sweat and toil, a three and a half percent increase over March, 2005.

In the light of those numbers I find myself perplexed at all the rhetoric about jobs that illegal immigrants are taking from able-bodied American citizens.

Now, as I’ve said before, I understand the need to fix the problem we have. What I don’t understand, though, is some of the solutions offered, especially the most draconian:

“The three major components of immigration control--deterrence, apprehension and removal (my emphasis added)--need to be strengthened by Congress and the Executive Branch if effective control is ever to be reestablished.”

Earlier in the week it appeared that a compromise on immigration policy had been worked out. Unfortunately, politics at its ugliest took over and the spirit of cooperation was doused by suspicion and partisanship:

“Democrats fear that although Senate Republicans have been offering centrist compromises, they will tilt the bill sharply to the right when it reaches a conference with the House.”
“Conversely, Republicans fear that Senate Democrats, while appearing conciliatory, at heart want to block passage of a Senate bill so that the GOP will be forced in this year's congressional campaigns to defend the much more conservative bill that the House approved in December.”
”The suspicion over motives suggests that in the difficult and emotional immigration debate, the most impassable border might be the space between two parties bruised by years of partisan conflict.”

The real problem I have with this “let’s get ‘em outta’ here solution” is that it won’t work. Mexicans and other Latin Americans are coming across out southern border, not because they are criminals, but because they are desperate, as Spiegel ONLINE recently reported:

“Our government thought a place like this was a natural obstacle, and that no one would be so desperate as to try to make their way through here,” Mayer says. “Now they're finding out that Latino refugees have no other choice.” Mayer once found a baby carriage in the desert. Another time, a woman came stumbling towards him in high-heeled shoes.”

“Mayer leaves water bottles in the scorching sand and arranges for maps to be handed out on the Mexican side of the border. The maps tell refugees where the water bottles have been deposited. It's their only survival aid in the relentless heat. According to official statistics, 473 people died making the border crossing last year, a record number.”

I cannot, and will not, find myself supporting any policy that criminalizes desperation. As I’ve said before, it’s un-American and un-Christian.

Yesterday I read a piece of astounding news, again from Spiegel ONLINE:

“A United States official on Wednesday said that Europe's inability to integrate its sizeable Muslim minority represented a risk to American security. Europe, meanwhile, is desperately searching for a strategy to confront the problem.”

“The alienation and isolation of Europe's substantial Muslim minority does not just present a potentially explosive problem for the continent, a United States State Department official said on Wednesday. Europe's inability to integrate its immigrant population (my emphasis added) also represents a threat to US security, he warned. US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington that high unemployment among Muslims in European countries combined with widespread discrimination and integration problems have created fertile ground for Muslim extremism.”

Talk about chutzpah. The United States is browbeating Europe over its failure to integrate its Muslim minority into the mainstream of European life. We’re telling Europe to solve its immigration problem while we refuse to find the way to solve ours. If things stay on the course they’re headed, in a week or so we’ll be recommending that Europe ship its Muslim immigrants back across the Mediterranean.

For me, this has also become as much a matter of faith as it is politics. Many of those desperately trying to enter the United States are brothers and sisters of mine. They are fellow members of the “household of faith.” Latin America is home to approximately twenty-seven percent of the world’s Pentecostal Christians. They constitute half of the entire population of our southern neighbors. In fact, there are more Pentecostals in Latin America than there are in the United States. (Source). They come armed with a theology that I find quite appealing. While they hold firmly to the essentials of Christianity, they also bring something very distinctive:

“Yet it is also undeniable that Pentecostal experience, like all religious experience, is also inherently political.”

As author Rowan Ireland has noted, that theology includes “fervent moralism, a conviction that God punishes the unjust in this world as well as the next.”

Beyond the theology and critical thought, though, this issue is also deeply personal to me. In one of the most recent issues on Christianity Today on line, Daniel Goody tells the story of a Guatemalan woman named Maria:

“I remember meeting Maria, who came north from Guatemala and wanted to work in the United States for only two years, then return home to her family. I met her on the Mexican side of the border just before her third attempt. In the previous 10 days, she had tried twice to cross the border through a remote route in southern Arizona. On her first attempt, she was mugged at the border by bandito gangs. Though bruised and beaten, she continued her journey through the desert and ran out of food. Just before she reached the road, she was apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol and put in an immigration detention center. A few days later she tried again. This time, her coyote smuggler tried to rape her, but she managed to free herself and push her way through the desert once again. After four days of walking, she ran out of food, water, and even strength. The border patrol found her, helped her, and then sent her back to Mexico.”

At the end of his interview with her, Goody asked her a question and got a very revealing answer:

“I was curious about how Maria dealt with these trials before God. ‘If you had 15 minutes to speak to God,’ I asked her, ‘what would you say?’ I thought she would give him a long litany of complaints. Instead, she told me, ‘I do not have 15 minutes to speak to God. I am always conversing with him, and I feel his presence with me always. Yet if I saw God face to face, the first thing I would do is thank him, because God has been so good to me and has blessed me so abundantly.’”

I am as committed as any American to securing our borders. But, I’m also committed to finding an avenue that lifts the burden of fellow pilgrims like Maria. There are millions of them. I do not believe that citing the law and shipping them back across the border is an American, or a Christian solution.

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Brad said...

Absolutely bang-up post. I rarely agree with you, but this is a well-stated, well-formed opinion that I happen to agree with as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an exceptional post. It was enlightening. -- Jess.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how verses from church songs stirs up memories of my childhood. Thanks! Ray