By Ted Braun
The film presented by the Tea Party at the Palace Theater on August 13 was a good example of how far we’ve come today from the words welcoming immigrants that were placed in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903. These welcoming words, part of a sonnet, “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus, sound strange to us today: “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-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The two-hour film shown by the Tea Party, “They Come to America II,” produced by Dennis Michael Lynch, was not a welcoming one. It dealt with our lack of border security, the fear of terrorists entering our country and causing additional 9/11s, of immigrants taking jobs away from our own citizens and being a drain on our economy. Lynch produced the film to put an American face on the issue of immigration with the hope that it will help House members to reject the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. A flyer handed out to those attending stated that he had submitted his film to thirty film festivals, but that they had all rejected the film.
The challenge for the Tea Party at this point is to broaden and deepen its study of the immigration problem before us. The Tea Party begins each of its monthly meetings with a prayer, thus giving each of its meetings a religious context. In such a context, it’s always appropriate to ask which deity is being addressed in their prayer, and what that deity’s concerns are. Most of the Tea Party members in Crossville, one suspects, are Christians who worship the God revealed in the Bible.
There are important clues in the Bible for the Tea Party and all of us concerning God’s desires on various issues such as immigration. One is given us in Leviticus 19:34, “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”
The social teaching of various church bodies can also be helpful to civic groups as they discuss various justice issues. For instance, as Catholic social teaching on migration developed, three fundamental principles came to inform church teaching on this issue: (1) People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families. It is God’s will that the abundance of the earth be shared in love by all his people. (2) A country has the right to regulate its border and to control migration. (3) A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy, seeking the common good above self-interest.
Beyond these general principles, it would be important for groups to analyze the basic causes of immigration. For instance, bad U.S.-Latin American policies have fueled unauthorized immigration big time. The North American Free Trade Agreement has devastated Mexico’s farm sector, allowing American farmers to flood the Mexican market with government-subsidized corn, displacing some one million farmers. In a similar way, the Central American Free Trade Agreement has devastated the Salvadoran agricultural sector. Mexico and El Salvador have been the source of most of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
Today the U.S. is home to 11 million undocumented immigrants who hold jobs, have children, pay taxes, and participate in community activities, but always in fear of being deported. Immigrant labor, primarily in the agricultural, construction, and restaurant sectors, are generally paid at a lower rate than are U.S. citizens. Undocumented persons are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by employers. Providing jobs while denying papers produces a citizenship-deprived work force that satisfies the corporate system.
The bishops of the U.S. and Mexico have called for a series of reforms to the broken U.S. immigration system. These include (1) policies to address the root causes of migration, including war and global poverty, (2) reform of our immigration system, including an earned legalization program and a temporary worker program with appropriate worker protections, and (3) restoration of due process for immigrants.
Emma Lazarus didn’t have time or space in her sonnet to get into all these aspects of a welcoming outlook. But now 110 years later, it’s critical that we do.
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This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.