Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Jesus, the Immigrant Messiah
"When they had gone [the Magi], an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'
"So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod." (Matthew 2:13-15a)
Joseph, Mary and Jesus were immigrants.
Like so many of the friends I made during the early 1980s who were fleeing to the United States for their lives from El Salvador and Guatemala, usually illegally, during the horribly bloody civil wars, so Jesus and his parents fled for their lives as immigrants to Egypt.
Immigration policy makes the news on a daily basis it seems.
People talk about the increased threat of terrorism.
People talk about the economic impact of illegal immigration.
Forgive me, but for the most part I just see people. People who want to work hard to achieve better lives for themselves and their children.
Maybe I am wrong, but I always thought this was the essence of immigration history in the United States. I keep remembering that inscription on Lady Liberty out in that welcoming New York harbor. Something about an invitation to send us "huddled masses" and "wretched refuse" for the promise of better lives.
I understand those who insist on legal immigration and the process that is to go along with that. But, we have a situation on our southern border. Most who cross over to our side do so illegally. Almost all come to work. Billions of dollars, earned here by hard working Mexican nationals, are sent back to Mexico annually to support the families left behind. No long ago I read a serious essay that pointed out that wages sent home to Mexico may represent the best foreign aid program the U. S. had ever utilized to invigorate a halting foreign economy.
Now comes the U. S. House of Representatives led by Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO). Before Christmas the House passed the harshest, most draconian anti-immigration bill in memory.
The legislation, still to be approved by the U. S. Senate, calls for the construction of a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border (Rep. Tancredo wants one along the Canadian border as well). It also makes it a federal crime to live in the U. S. illegally. The law would make millions of current immigrants felons and insure that they would never achieve legal status.
Further, the House bill would make it against the law for social service organizations and churches to shield or offer support to illegal immigrants. In addition, the new law would penalize cities for providing services without first determining the legal status of recipients.
Thank God we have a Senate in this country!
No doubt, immigration policy needs to be reformed and made more realistic. The President seems to be on the right track with some sort of guest worker program. At least it is better than Tancredo's plan. What we need is a bi-partisan commission on immigration and the special relationship between the U. S. and Mexico. After all, we are neighbors.
Whenever the subject comes up, I think of the thousands of people I have met and observed over the past almost twelve years who are immigrants from Mexico and Central America. I know their basic motivation. I know that we are all the same when it comes to security, family and hope.
Whenever someone mentions immigration, I think of so many of my friends.
I also think of that frightened young couple long ago who made their way through the darkness of night to Egypt. They were emigrants fleeing in search of life and hope.