Good Life

Clergy Column

It’s looking like immigration may be the next issue Washington will try to tackle — and hopefully they do address it. It has been lingering for so long that almost any action would be better that the inaction we’re getting.

Those of us from the Judeo-Christian background should consider what the Bible says on this issue: In Exodus 22, God commands to the Hebrews: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner; remember that you were foreigners in Egypt.”

That’s a pretty strong command, repeated over and over again to God’s people, in the Old and New Testaments (though sometimes the translation “stranger” is used.) It probably sounds familiar to most church/synagogue attenders — foreigners/strangers are usually lumped together with widows and orphans as those we are commanded to take care of.

Now if you think about it, as that command was repeated over and over again, over centuries of time, most of those generations did not themselves come out of Egypt, had never been to Egypt. It was their ancestors, living in the distant past, who had been slaves in Egypt.

But this was still God’s message to each generation, that they should remember the humble origins of their ancestors when they look to the foreigners of their day.

If the Bible is relevant in our lives today, then there is a message here for us too: We should remember the humble origins of our own ancestors when they came to America, whether it was a few years ago or hundreds of years ago. Other than the American Indians, all of us are descended from immigrants, and very few of them had first-class tickets to get here.

Of course, there has to be rules for coming to America. But the question is, if you break those rules and enter America illegally, should it be more like a traffic ticket or more like a murder charge? I think almost all of us could agree it should be somewhere in the middle, and that is where the politics and the haggling come into play, to reach a compromise we can all live with.

In July, at a Tea Party rally in Washington on the topic of immigration, a Tea Party leader, Ken Crow, said, “From those incredible blood lines of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and John Smith. And all these great Americans, Martin Luther King. These great Americans who built this country. You came from them. And the unique thing about being from that part of the world, when you learn about breeding, you learn that you cannot breed Secretariat to a donkey and expect to win the Kentucky Derby. You guys have incredible DNA, and don’t forget it.”

Look it up for yourself on the Internet. While at least he included Martin Luther King, and I know President Barack Obama has referred figuratively to the “DNA” of America, Crow seems to be much more literal and his opinion of other potential immigrants (Mexicans, etc.) appears to be deeply troubling.

I know many people in the Tea Party movement who are disgusted by attitudes like this, and both major parties have elements with extreme views in them, but on the topic of immigration, on the topic of how we are going to treat the foreigners in our land, the strangers in our land, we all need to remember: If you go back far enough in our families, we all were foreigners once.

We should treat immigrants today with the respect and dignity we would have wanted our ancestors to have been treated.