When I fly into New York these days--as I often do now--I often see the Statue of Liberty when I land. I often think about what I learned about the United States when I was growing up--"send me your huddled masses." Lady Liberty invites people of the nations to come. Nothing says this more powerfully than what sits next to her. You see in New York next to the Statue sits Ellis Island. It is one of our nation's most fascinating parks and in the past her most significant entryway, a tribute to immigration (and even the debate that went on about it generations ago is traced there at a wonderful national park well worth visiting). My own family came to the US through Ellis Island decades ago. I remember visiting that park years ago and wondering what it must have been like to come to a new land with nothing but hope--and have a chance to get it. That was apparently then.
Now I see a nation where many are angry and afraid. Rather than seeking to deal constructively with what is admittedly a difficult immigration situation by really trying to fix what is and has been wrong with immigration, we are seeking to pass laws that make us look mean and exclusionary (even if it is, as its framers claim, not the intent). We ask police to do things they do not normally do (or at least have not done up until now). We risk ignoring how people were asked to come (yes, even as illegals) years ago. We risk splitting families. We risk ignoring how many of those who came have taken on roles many of us did not want that enable many of us to do what we do. We risk failing to see that a great majority of those who have come have lived here peaceably, have sought to help their families, and give their children opportunities they never had. We forget they came for many of the reasons our ancestors came. Apparently it was good enough for us and our ancestors then, but it is no longer good enough now.
I mention this in a theological-cultural blog because in the Bible there is a care and concern for the foreigner and alien in the land. We are risking not only turning our back on Lady Liberty but by this response we risk turning our back on the Judeo-Christian values that many claim should concern us as a society. Maybe some of those who support these new efforts merely to enforce our laws have failed to recognize or learn this historical and theological background. Were and are the laws we have flawed in how they were handled and applied, contributing to the mess we have now that needs fixing? Is the way currently being pursued really a reflection of our national and societal values?
Our seminary's current issue of KIndred Spirit focuses on immigration. You can get a copy through our web site at: www.dts.edu. These articles were written before the latest debate around the current legislation. They seek to give biblical perspective on these issues. Or one might check out the recent book by M. Daniel Carroll-Rodas, Christians at the Border. It seeks to give biblical background and historical perspective to the current situation and how we got here. I ask myself what as a society makes us now want to build walls between people rather than the bridges Lady Liberty and Ellis Island so eloquently represent? Should we really turn our back on who we have been? Should we would turn our back on one of the things best about our past that has made us into what we are in the present? What are we afraid of?