There has been a lot of talk about immigrants and immigration reform lately. In reading I came a Stranger, by Hilda Satt Polacheck I found many similarities to what is happening today…the book is based on events in the late 1800’s to the 1930’s in the US, with emphasis on Hull House in Chicago. Immigrants being victimized, workers treated poorly, the poor downtrodden, anti-war movements, government corruption, all so familiar to us today and thriving back then. Remember the old saying, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it?” Seems like we just don’t get it.
In Polacheck’s book, she makes the following observation…”The American people still do not realize that it was Jane Addams who woke the conscience of America that it owed to the great masses of people who were pouring into America. It was Jane Addams who pointed out that these immigrants were making the clothing that Americans wore…they were the food and working in the stockyards…they were digging the coal and making the steel..(she) saw them as bewildered people, uprooted from their native soil. In many instances they had fled from oppression…”(pp96, 97)
To hear some people speak today, you would think all of our ancestors were native to this land and that the undocumented workers today are opportunists who need to be sent back where they came from. That attitude is wrong on many points, one of them being that unless you are a Native American, you all come from immigrant stock and the first settlers did not come here “legally”, but rather to take the land from the real natives and send them packing. And so it has continued.
Another point to be made is that many of the current nay-sayers claim to be Christians and claim to believe in what the Bible teaches…so, what about passages like:
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.” Leviticus 19:33
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9
“There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Exodus 12:49
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35
“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’” Matthew 25:43
“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” Ezekiel 47:22
“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3
“And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?” Matthew 25:38
Aaahhh, the question that is on so many lips but so few really want to hear. What would Jesus do? It’s pretty clear from the scriptures what Jesus would do. But are those who claim to be Christians really listening?
A study by the Cato Institute says “immigrants come to America today to build a better life through work, not welfare, just as they have throughout American history.” It backs up this point with U.S. Department of Labor data on labor force participation. Among foreign-born people, the work rate was 67.9 percent in 2010, compared to the native-born rate of 64.1 percent.
Hmm, so it’s kind of like what Hilda was saying in her book about events over a hundred years ago. The more things change the more they stay the same.
In that same report, it is noted that welfare benefits are generally not available to immigrants. Undocumented immigrants, of course, cannot receive public services such as cash assistance or Medicaid at all, and legal immigrants aren’t eligible for five years. Other programs are totally inaccessible until they become citizens.
And yet, I continue to hear cries that they are coming here to live off our welfare system. Not true, but people seem less interested in the truth than in conspiracy theories.
Here’s more from that report. The typical immigrant and his or her descendants pay more in taxes than they consume in government services in terms of net present value. Lowskilled immigrants do impose a net cost on government, in particular on the state and local level, but those costs are often exaggerated
by critics of immigration and are offset by broader benefits to the overall economy.
Despite the common belief, newcomers to the United States are not generally eligible for the full smorgasbord of welfare benefits. Title IV of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act of 1996 has made it difficult for legal permanent residents in the United States to live as wards of the state. The law, also known as the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, states that “selfsufficiency
has been a basic principle of United States immigration law.” In particular, “aliens within the Nation’s borders [should] not depend on public resources to meet their needs,” and “the availability of public benefits [should] not constitute an incentive for immigration to the United States” (U.S. Congress 1996).
Cato Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Winter 2012) Daniel Griswold is Director of the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy
Studies at the Cato Institute.
In some major faith groups, the idea of welcoming the stranger among us is growing, as it should. The United Church of Christ national officers released a statement in support of immigration reform efforts led by President Obama and four democrats and four republicans who drafted the framework during five meetings since the November election. They urge government representatives to act now, and stress the importance of the faith community’s voice in this national debate.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) a Quaker peace and social justice organization, finds it helpful that both the President and eight U.S. Senators have agreed the time is now for creating a path to citizenship. But it should not be paired with more unnecessary, harmful border control measures, or expansion of employment verification programs such as E-Verify and I-9 audits which put labor protections of all workers at risk.
It seems a bit ironic that the Statue of Liberty is the site of Emma Lazarus’s famous poem which ends with Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
How unwelcoming have we become? For those who claim we are a Christian nation, how can you deny people to come here for a better life? Given the statistics stated above, these immigrants, whether documented or not, do not pose a threat to us. “We have met the enemy and he is us”. Let us hope and pray that all who preach Christ will also follow him.