The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the way for 11 million illegal immigrants to seek U.S. citizenship without first having to leave the country, the Tennessean reported Monday. For most Republicans, this is not welcome legislation.
“Well over 60 percent of Americans in all the polls I see think it’s OK to have temporary workers, but you do not have to make them citizens,” the article reported Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. as saying.
The reason that many U.S. citizens decry what some call “amnesty” legislation centers around two primary issues.
The first is fairness. Sen. Kyl has proposed his own bill which would require illegal workers be given temporary-worker status on the condition that they would return to their country of origin after five years and step into the queue of green-card applicants legally seeking permission to immigrate.
The second concern is justice. Many U.S. citizens are angered that persons who willfully broke the law and entered this country illegally could benefit from their actions. The bi-partisan legislation that has passed up to this point opens the door, they believe, for persons who break the law to be rewarded for it.
Though this is a political hot-button issue with many political, economic and social implications, Christians must pay attention to the ideologies and rhetoric surrounding the debate. Those who call themselves “Jesus people” must approach the matter perspicuously if we are to fashion a meaningful response.
This issue has many prominent features, including, but not limited to, economic factors, national security concerns, public burden and responsibility arguments, cultural protectionism and the defense of a national democratic identity.
These are legitimate concerns, given the tenuousness of the world in which we find ourselves. However, it seems that these concerns might circle around something else.
Could it be that the real issue at stake is confusion surrounding, “What is the foreigner for?”
Christians living in the United States need to ask two vital questions. First, “What are foreigners for in God’s story through Jesus?” And second, “What are foreigners for in American democracy?”
In asking the first question, we are reminded that Deuteronomy 10:18 proclaims our God to be a God who “loves the stranger.” For this reason, we are to “also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
To be a foreigner or alien is to recognize one’s incompleteness without God’s “hospitality”–God’s love and justice.
Furthermore, lest we nestle into the belief that we are naturalized into God’s kingdom, we must remember what Paul writes to the Romans: we groan inwardly as “we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
Ephesians echoes this theology, reminding us that God “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.”
If we inherit God’s kingdom, it is certainly not as God’s own blood, but because of God’s own blood.
We are always to remember that if God’s character is not one whose nature “welcomes the stranger” it would be, as Emily Dickinson said, “a rugged billion miles” to salvation.
Because we know that we are to seek the good of the city in which we live, we must also ask the question, “What is the foreigner for in American democracy?”
This question lies at the heart of both sets of convictions. Interestingly, President Bush finds himself in the middle of the debate.
Both sides argue from justice and fairness. However, what are at stake are core American democratic principles. Bonnie Honig, in her Democracy and the Foreigner, mentions a few of these, which could be applied to the current situation.
Liberals argue that the American identity is secured by amnesty legislation.
The possibility of upward mobility through individual effort requires the existence of a bottom level of labor and wages. The presence of immigrants in our society reinforces the norms of community and family, no matter how large or how legal.
Moreover, immigrants confirm the legitimacy of the social contract; persons of diverse cultures and practices can really get along as equals.
Conservatives, however, argue that the American identity is corrupted through amnesty legislation.
The possibility of upward mobility is challenged by a permanent lower class, which seems to devalue the Protestant work ethic. The presence of non-traditional family structures encroaches on the form and shape of the most beneficial type of family—the nuclear family.
Moreover, the social contract is rendered null and void, because illegals are neither fully contracted, nor are they exempt from some of society formal requirements, because they do pay for the use of certain goods and services through flat taxes.
President Bush falls somewhere in between these two positions, arguing that the American identity is one that welcomes foreigners, but does not offer amnesty to “lawlessness.”
In all three positions, Americans and American Christians are fighting honorably to defend these principles because they ground an identity of citizenship that has become a natural right. We have forgotten, however, that there is no natural identity for any who claim to be God’s children.
Furthermore, by developing laws that presuppose “us” and “them” categories that can only be bridged through a process of “naturalization,” we have re-engaged the very idolatries of family, state and religion that Jesus warned us against.
Illegal immigrants remind us of just how much we have violated God’s covenant and Christ’s gift of reconciliation. To add offense to injury, they remind us that the American ideals we fight so hard to protect are largely myths.
For instance, upward mobility according to individual effort is subject to social factors beyond individuals’ control. The nuclear family is in fact not morally superior, for poverty oppresses families of all forms and sizes. The social contract of democracy that guarantees each individual a voice in her government is constantly destabilized by class, gender and race factors.
God’s people were founded through aliens. So, too, was the United States. Because we have forgotten the first confession, we have falsified the second.
Andy Watts is an assistant professor of religion teaching ethics at Belmont University.
Andy Watts is professor of religion at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.