Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.
President Bush has proposed an immigration reform plan. It toughens border enforcement, but also creates incentives for illegal immigrants to come forward, pay a fine and apply for legal citizenship. Hard-line conservatives call this approach amnesty and oppose it. Among them is Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is attacking Senate candidate Bob Casey for taking an approach that seems pretty much spot on with the president’s.
As certain elements of my party struggle to get in touch with their inner Pat Buchanan, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what the Bible says about immigrants.
The biblical case against abortion is inferential. The Bible doesn’t speak directly to the topic. It lays out some principles—sacredness of life, humanity of the unborn—that lead to the conclusion that abortion is not permitted. It’s the same with stem cells, child tax credits, faith-based social service provisions, etc.
Immigration is different: The Bible is explicit. In the Torah, Moses commanded, “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” The Bible is unabashedly pro-immigrant.
The argument is simple: You were immigrants in Egypt, and you didn’t like being mistreated, so now that you have your own country, you should treat immigrants compassionately. Compassionate treatment of immigrants is basically an early version of the Golden Rule: Treat people the way you used to want to be treated when you were in Egypt.
The Exodus was an act of protection against mistreated immigrants. The children of Israel had earlier crossed the border of Egypt to seek a more economically secure life for themselves. Eventually they were seen as a threat to Egyptian cultural purity and national security. Much later, King David surrounded himself with immigrants, as did his son, Solomon. The prophets spoke out on behalf of aliens frequently.
Jesus of Nazareth was an immigrant. When he was a child, he and Mary and Joseph crossed the border to Egypt illegally. You see, they had a well-founded fear of political persecution from a Middle Eastern dictator named Herod.
A few years ago, I debated Pat Buchanan on the issue of immigration. His view was that immigrants threaten our culture to such an extent that these people spell the “Death of the West.”
But he’s wrong. Immigrants do not threaten our culture; generally, they enrich it.
People who choose this country at great risk are more likely to share its values than those who are simply born here. Latino immigrants sign up for military service in greater proportions than native-born Americans. I know a young man from El Salvador who signed up, even before being granted citizenship, and served with great courage in combat in Iraq. I’m not sure there’s a more telling metric for love of country than the decision to put one’s life on the line.
In this debate, I asked Pat this: If 200 years from now, this country is filled with people who read and love Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, but who are overwhelmingly dark-skinned, would this be a good thing? He said that it would be a tragedy and a disaster.
This isn’t we-hold-these-truths-to-be-self-evident conservatism—this is blood-and-soil conservatism. In my opinion, it is also Pagan to the core.
Then there is the matter of the English language. Someone once asked me, “Do you want your grandchildren to grow up speaking Spanglish?” Sure, why not? We all grew up speaking “Franglish.” Our language is a mix of French and Anglo-Saxon that started with the Norman Conquest in 1066. Living languages change. I can read the Latin of St. Augustine pretty much as well (or, in my case, as badly) as that of John Paul II, because Latin is a dead language. Jesus grew up speaking “Hebrelonian,” a mix of Hebrew and the Chaldean that the Jews picked up in Babylon. Didn’t he turn out pretty well?
I understand that on the surface, the current argument is not about immigration per se, but about illegal immigration. I also understand, from nearly a decade of hosting talk radio, that almost every time I run into someone who wants to take a tough approach on illegal immigrants, they also turn out to dislike legal ones as well.
Let’s face an obvious fact: People tend to want the laws that they like to be strictly enforced, and the laws they don’t like to be loosely enforced. Strictness of enforcement is usually proportional to the level of agreement with the law.
Conservatives can complain about “amnesty” being offered to illegal immigrants, but we led the charge for a kinder and gentler IRS that had the power to forgive penalties for back taxes. Typically when we see a lot of people violating a 55 mph speed limit, we wonder whether that isn’t a sign that the law was too draconian to begin with.
Do hard-line conservatives want to take away the IRS’s right to negotiate for lower penalties? Do they want to toughen up penalties for people who drain wetlands, or protest on abortion clinic property, or who display a two-ton monument of the Ten Commandments on government property without proper permission? There’s no reason why immigration should be treated any differently.
The argument made from legality is circular, anyway. We can change any statute which we choose to, and if we choose to liberalize our immigration laws, then many illegal aliens will no longer be illegal.
The president wants to create a program in which illegals can come forward, pay a fine and apply for legitimate citizenship. What do the hard-liners want? My hard-line talk radio callers want deportation. I have two words that I’d like for them to contemplate for a moment: “concentration camp.” There is no way that you move 10 to 20 million people from one nation to another, against their will, without concentrating them.
We could go the way of the hard-liners, or we (a nation of immigrants) could go the way of the God of Israel, “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt….”