Essay / Misc.

Clarity on Immigration

A couple of months ago the House of Representatives was talking about legislation that would have made it a criminal act to provide humanitarian help to illegal immigrants. More Senatorial heads prevailed, which made charities and churches heave a sigh of relief. The immigration legislation process grinds on, with developments every day but no breakthroughs in sight. Who knows if helping illegal aliens will be criminalized in some future form of the bill?

In one way, if such legislation were passed, it would have been a clarifying moment for me as a Christian: If my government passed a law saying I couldn’t obey the sermon on the mount, so much the worse for my government. Watch me go Mennonite overnight! The gap between the city of man and the City of God would be clear with nearly eschatological clarity, and I’d know enough to take a stand on the right side.

Such eschatological clarity, by the way, doesn’t exist in the current debate, although the scary right and the wacky left both talk as if it does. I hope Christians say something more helpful than that, as they start weighing in more. Wouldn’t it be great if evangelicals taught the culture to take the unrealistically eschatological edge off their thought?

Something like Krauthammer’s “First a Wall — The Amnesty” approach is probably right at the policy level, although “Amnesty” is so variously interpreted that I’m not sure how the paperwork would work, and “a Wall” turns out to be a difficult thing to define too, believe it or not.

On the local level something like “God Loves Mexican Culture — Please Assimilate when you Immigrate” is needed, along with constant vigilance toward the nativist backlash that this problem seems to evoke. We need some creative legislators to get the big picture, be patient, and put together a coherent package from the laundry list that’s out there now: Enforcing border laws, encouraging citizenship, patriotism, and language acquisition, protecting undocumented workers from predatory employers and thugs, encouraging Mexico’s own economic development, and so on. That’s not a very exciting speech; it sounds like one of those horrific stem-winders that devolve into long lists of disconnected policy initiatives, the kind of bad speech that Bill Clinton occasionally tried to muscle his way through.

But exciting speeches are not what we need right now. Even talking about “solving the problem” of illegal immigration from Mexico is troublesome: it makes the situation sound like something we ought to be able to wrap up with a couple of big ideas, between commercial breaks. We need shifts in large patterns of governmental and corporate behavior, consistently, consistently, consistently, over time. After that, there will be clarity. Premature clarity scares me here: just turn on the radio and try to listen for thirty minutes to the people who think they know exactly what we oughta do about all this, by gum. They’ll tell you right now.

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