Congress did not produce new immigration legislation. What are we Christians to do now?
Now that the political points no longer need to be made, we do well to reconsider the facts on the ground. Toward that end, Barbie and I visited the Mexican border ourselves. We accepted the invitation of former GA moderators, John Fife and Rick Ufford-Chase, to explore the Tucson sector, a 60-mile, south-to-north area above a 240 miles-long stretch of the border.
Encountering migrants and the Christian volunteers seeking to serve them, we heard about the cycles of migration that have crossed the border for hundreds of years. Seasons of planting and harvest, periods of major construction and other rhythms of labor have driven breadwinners to seek employment wherever available, and family ties have drawn them back home as soon and as often as possible.
We heard how the well-intended immigration legislation of 1994, aimed primarily at drug trafficking, backfired. The drugs still flow freely. But the flow of workers has been blocked in the major border towns, leading many of those workers to undertake perilous journeys through the desert in search of employment. And, since they can no longer count on making return visits, they now bring spouses and children, leaving behind their home communities, in order to settle permanently and covertly in the United States.
Add NAFTA to the mix, with its easing of migration for corporations in search of cheap labor. Now many Mexicans and Central Americans can work for an American corporation in their homeland, earning a dollar or two per hour, or they can sneak into the United States to work for the same corporation at five times the wage.
The result? Hundreds have perished in the desert. Thousands have been captured and returned. Millions have settled in our country — and are living in constant fear of capture and deportation.
Yes, the legislation has backfired. Sadly, the American spirit has, as well. A nation that has harmonized cultures of east and west, the vast majority being immigrants themselves, has become collectively xenophobic, even jingoistic toward the newest immigrants. This ought not be so.
What are we to do?
For one thing, we can continue to urge members of Congress to write helpful legislation.
We need a migrant worker program. Countless U.S. employers need laborers, and the market can drive the pace of migration. Providing papers for temporary workers would relieve border patrol officers of the duty to track legitimate workers and allow the officers to focus their efforts on interdicting drug smugglers and terrorists.
We need a law that will help us embrace the millions of landed, undocumented immigrants that our existing laws have inadvertently drawn here. We can’t lock them up. We ought not to drive them away. Given our unintended complicity in causing them to sneak in here, let’s pave a path toward citizenship for them.
We also need to revisit our trade agreements with partner countries in the western hemisphere. We Americans found the courage to institute a Marshall Plan for Europe and Asia after World War II. Can we not muster the courage in our time to institute a similar plan for the Americas? Such a program would need to address patterns of wealth development and poverty imposition; it would need to prosecute corruption; and it would have to build infrastructures for the development of commerce. But the true American spirit — under Christian influence — can do that!
In the immediate context, we Presbyterian Christians need to take a hard look at what we are doing locally. Thousands of us have volunteered to give relief in hurricane-damaged areas. Might thousands more volunteer time to help migrants? The need is massive, but the workers are few.
A small number among us have felt called to challenge the present enforcement of immigration policies (see p. 8). Such civil engagement is not to be taken lightly. We are law-abiding citizens. But some laws and law enforcers need to be defied, as Corrie Ten Boom showed us during the German Holocaust. In the name of the gospel of grace, ought we to contemplate doing similarly on behalf of migrants?
Congress has not acted as we had hoped. Then again, for us Christians, our ultimate hope is based not in Washington, D.C., but in a center of government not of this world. Our citizenship is based there, too. The Sovereign commands us to love one another and, especially, to love the aliens among us. May God find us obedient.