A year ago I began renting part of my house to a family recently immigrated to the U.S. Their English was sparse and my Spanish was limited. I have always loved Latinos and their culture and this was the perfect opportunity to provide housing for a young family, while benefiting from the interaction. I took a Spanish class and began a routine forcing my own immersion into their world. As usually is the case, in any cross-cultural interaction, one finds out quickly the good, the bad and the ugly of the other culture, especially when one has to share a roof. Certainly, they discovered the same in me.
Because of proximity, I was forced to struggled with the issues they face daily as immigrants. It was my intention to in whatever ways possible buffer them from the harsh society and translate some of the things I had learned about dominant culture in the U.S. When it was confirmed what I had suspected—that they were illegal—I continued helping them as before. Some would have a problem doing so, because they were “obviously” breaking the law. I have no idea what personal consequences lie in wait for those who assist illegal immigrants and I mostly don’t care. Some might say that the Bible strictly mandates that Christians obey the rulers and authority figure over them. Yet my own, not so distant history, reminds me of the faithful who paid for their faithfulness with their lives. Christ, Paul and many others have done the same in matters of faith in conflict with the government. This is where I rest my case.
As a Christian I am obligated, especially, to the stranger, the alien, the poor and the oppressed. Even the Old Testament was clear on that point. In general, the land of Israel was judged with respect to how they treated the foreigner and the alien. Read Judges 19 for a specific, vivid story. It seems proper hospitality was a gauge by which one could determine the extent to which Israel was “fallen” in their principles and ideals as a nation.
To me it is interesting today to read a motto connected with a primary symbol of our own great nation, the Statue of Liberty. Her message to the world is:
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries sheWith silent lips. "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!" (Lazarus 1888, 202-3)
Yet, increasingly, for the past numerous years our golden door is persistently locked to special peoples. Our immigration system is broken. Poor and weighted foreign relations compound the problem. And individuals make the decisions they must make. Hence, illegal immigrants exist among us, hiding at the bottom of the social and economic food chain. The government hasn’t figured out how to make them exist on paper yet. So they don’t exist but to those who can use them, temporarily. They hold their existence and non-existence in the same hand. Bureaucracy has always had trouble allocating personhood to the right people. Meanwhile, while they untangle their red tape for the next decade, I think perhaps the right thing to do would be to respond to the living breathing family under my roof?