|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.