Friday, December 20, 2013

Without Papers

Painting by John Lautermilch
On this Friday before Christmas, I am writing first about an event that took place sometime after that first Christmas when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
According to Matthew 2:14, having been warned of King Herod’s evil intentions, Joseph took the child Jesus and his mother Mary and fled to Egypt. As far as we know, the three of them entered Egypt “without papers.” That is, they were undocumented immigrants, although later—and we don’t know how much later, maybe a year or two—they went back to Palestine.
Similarly, many USAmericans who read this have ancestors who for various, but mostly economic, reasons came to this country without immigration papers. The first restrictive federal immigration law was not passed until 1875—and it was enacted to prohibit the entry of immigrants considered “undesirable.”
Specifically, that 1875 immigration law was passed to “end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women.” But, in general, immigrants from around the world were welcomed into the U.S., no papers necessary.
In 1883 as a part of the fund-raising campaign for the Statue of Liberty, American poet Emma Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus.” Then in 1903 the following well-known words from that poem were inscribed on a plaque that is now in the museum in the base of the Statue:
. . . . 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!
Later, other immigration bills were enacted to keep “undesirables” out of the country, but the first law to restrict the number of new immigrants was not passed until 1921. Mexican immigration was restricted for the first time by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
But now there is a major national problem over “undocumented immigrants” in the U.S. There are nearly 12 million of them, with about 3/4 being from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Some people think that most, if not all, of those here without papers ought to be deported. But such people are in the minority.
The majority of U.S. citizens, according to recent polls, think that there should be immigration reform that includes a road to citizenship for those now here without papers. Moreover, in June of this year the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill by a vote of 68-32.
That bill (S.744) is the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” But the House has failed to act on it. In spite of widespread support by Republicans as well as Democrats, the bill has not yet been brought up for a vote. Once again we see bad results from the “tyranny of the minority.”
In recent weeks there has been an ongoing fast on the National Mall by those seeking to get the House to pass the immigration bill. The slogan of that group is Fast for Families, and people across the country, including some members of the House as well as at least one regular reader of this blog, have gone on short fasts in solidarity with the D.C. fasters. But to no avail—so far.
Since the bipartisan budget bill was passed this week, many are now hopeful that the immigration bill will be passed in January. For the sake of the millions of people, especially the many children, who are living in this country with fear, uncertainty, and often exploitation, let’s hope and pray that those here “without papers” may soon be on the path to becoming productive citizens.


  1. An interesting mix of religion, ethics, and politics, as so often happens in the world. The latter is probably necessary, but certainly makes reform messy.

    My father's family came here as refugees by way of Holland and England (where they never fit in) during the early 1700's after being driven out of France for being Protestant. Having worked with officially sanctioned immigration, and also served on the board of an organization serving undocumented immigrants, Many do come just to work the system for a free ride. The news also includes stories of immigrants who intend to cause trouble (terror, drugs, human trafficing, etc.) - even some in Kansas City. I can understand the multiple sides of the issue. There must be Comprehensive Immigration Reform, with a key focus of keeping the trouble makers out, and deporting or permanently confining those who come here to cause trouble. However, MOST immigrants, refugees, asylees come here with there eyes keenly focused on Lady Liberty. The story of the refugee, Jesus, and so many other similar stories from the scriptures and history point to the need of a well maintained and generous immigration policy, especially for those who intend to assimilate, adapt, and be productive. It does not have to include citizenship or various entitlements, but it certainly could. Many desire to return to their home countries when the conditions become livable again - like Jesus' family did.

    But politics seem to get in the way of good policy. Both Democrats and Republicans have a very poor history with immigration policy, and anything being pushed as reform must be considered with real skepticism. One can see from other countries around the world the problems of poor immigration policy.

    Good immigration reform will be very complex. Please, God, grant wisdom to those promoting reform, especially those who represent us in national politics.

  2. I have never forgotten Jesse Jackson's rejoinder to Dan Quayle's attack on the fictional Murphy Brown's single parenthood, where he pointed out that Jesus was a love child. Well, now here we are facing the issue that Jesus was also a refugee. As a Jew in the Roman Empire, he was also a member of an oppressed people. Somewhere in there is a message for American Exceptionalism.

    In recent years some Christians have focused on Luke 4, especially Jesus' quotation from Isaiah in verses 18-19, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." If Jesus ran for President on that platform, I wonder how far he would get? Good news for the poor? Empty the prisons? Healthcare? Debt relief? No way! This is America!

    My Great-grandfather Dempsey came to the United States from Canada. Family tradition has it that his parents were the first couple married in the Anglican Cathedral in London, Ontario. So one vacation we stopped to check out the place, and found out that it became a cathedral during the great potato famine in Ireland. Well, that certainly fit with another tradition that Jeremiah Dempsey was one of five brothers who had come over from Ireland. The cathedral was also Irish, the English had a separate Anglican cathedral at another location. Of course, not all the Irish in town went to this cathedral, because their next door neighbor was a Catholic who reportedly was once chased around the house by Jeremiah because the neighbor did not properly understand the troubles back in Ireland. And every time the poor fellow ran past the back porch, my Great-great-grandmother whacked him in back with a broom to drive home the point. So, just like most Americans, I have a favorite immigration story in my family. Why is it so hard for the United States to have an immigration policy with a generous dash of charity and common sense?

  3. From Thinking Friend Temp Sparkman:

    "Thanks for humanising the immigration issue with a reference to the Holy Family."

  4. And from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson:

    "One of the most pressing ethical issues of our day, Leroy! Thanks for giving us a clear reason for urging the House to act."

  5. Then this e-mail (in part) from Thinking Friend John Carr in California:

    This makes me think of a passage in Psalms-Psalm 24:1 that says that GOD owns it All.

    We should welcome All Good people to our country and try and make them feel welcome.

  6. Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona sent the following comments, to which I need to respond:

    "There is no question that our immigration laws need revising. However, the larger issue today is that the present laws are all we have and they must be obeyed if we want this nation to continue to be 'a nation of law and order.' We have miserably failed in enforcing the laws that exist. If people don't like the law, then work toward changing them. In the meantime, the current laws must be obeyed and law-breakers should be sent back to their native country.

    "The example about Mary and Joseph entering Egypt is not a fair comparison. When they entered Egypt, were they breaking any laws?

    "I am very distressed when I hear of religious leaders and church groups helping immigrants who are breaking the law. Why don't they spend their holy energies on getting the laws changed?"

    1. Truett, thanks for your forthright comments which makes possible dialogue about an important subject.

      Jim Wallis is one of the main religious leaders in Washington who has been involved in helping needy immigrants. But he has also been one of the main ones expending "holy energy" on getting the laws changed: earlier this month he had nothing but water to eat or drink for ten days while fasting for immigration reform.

      As to Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus breaking laws, I don't suppose they were -- just as Mexicans coming into this country were not breaking any law until after 1965. That was part of my point: the necessity of having papers is a rather recent thing. And making laws against people coming to the country out of desperation is not necessarily a good thing. Moreover, enforcing laws that break up families and harm children born in this country or are here through no choice of their own is not a good thing.

      There have through the years been people who broke laws to protest the unjust and/or harmful nature of those laws. For example, there were people, whites as well as blacks, who broke laws that enforced racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. Their acts of civil disobedience was part of what brought about needed change in those unjust laws.

      While it is mainly "liberal" Christians, perhaps, that are working most for immigration reform while seeking to help suffering undocumented immigrants and their families, there is also an active organization of evangelicals working on this issue. You might be interested in checking out

      Thanks again for writing, and for reading just a bit of what all could be said on this important subject.

  7. A Thinking Friend in Louisiana sent the following comments:

    "Poor Leroy. He needs to have his eyes adjusted. He is out of focus. The focus of the Christmas story is the Christ and the incarnation of the Son of God. Anything that detracts from that story is not of God. It is like an art critic who finds fault with a masterpiece because a fly dropped a very, very tiny fly spec in an obscure corner of the masterpiece. . . . .

    "Leroy, you are out of focus."

    1. The message of Christmas is love: God's love for us humans. I see that clearly.

      Proper response to God's love means that we love God and that we love others as ourselves. I see that clearly, too, although I don't always succeed in doing what I should.

      Here are some Bible verses, found on an Internet website, that are related to love and to how we treat strangers, including undocumented immigrants:

      The following list of Bible verses comes from the New Revised Standard Version

      Deuteronomy 10: 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
      Leviticus 19:34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
      Matthew 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
      Matthew 25:40 Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me.
      Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
      Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
      Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
      Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
      3 John 1:5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that they may become co-workers with the truth.
      Luke 10:27 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
      Hebrews 13: 1 Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
      Colossians 3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.
      Matthew 25: 35 I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
      Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

  8. Definitely! Thanks for such an illuminating appraisal! Immigration rights really speak to a universal sense of goodness and compassion, of treating humans not only as items or numbers, but as fully realized beings who should be allowed to build their lives in a way that befits their well-being, whenever, wherever.

    Joseph @ Best Law Associates