There are few things as controversial as the debate over immigration in the United States despite the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. The Onion: America’s Finest (Satirical) News Source even ran an article on the immigration issue recently. The headline may seem harmless enough: “Rich White People Get Latino Guy To Do Some Work For Them” doesn’t involve too many of us since most of us don’t consider ourselves rich. Regardless, I think it deserves a bit more thought (as most satire does). If we think about the issue on a broader scale, the headline no longer seems so innocent, especially if you replace “Rich White People” with “United States” and make “Guy” plural. It has been an inconvenient and uncomfortable headline for quite a while for politicians and the public alike: “United States Gets Latino Guys To Do Some Work For Them, But Won’t Let Them Work Legally.”
Plenty of ideas have been kicked around for immigration reform, but I think the situation needs rethinking first. Priority number one: are we looking for a just solution or just a solution to make the problem go away? Priority number two: why should we not just leave it up to the politicians?
Firstly, it has always escaped me why the immigration “problem” is considered a domestic issue when immigrants are required to cross one or more international borders to get to the United States. We never take time to juxtapose our foreign policy and our immigration policy. In the 20th century and beyond, the United States government has been in the habit of supporting military dictatorships, overthrowing governments that pose a threat to our “national interests,” and pushing economic treaties that propose a free market like NAFTA and CAFTA, when in reality Mexico, Central America, and the rest of the world simply cannot compete.
It is no wonder that this might force Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, and people from around the globe to seek economic refuge and political asylum in the United States. The United States does not recognize some political refugees (as was once the case with El Salvador and Guatemala) and economic refugees often have to wait far too long to get a visa. Crossing the Mexican-American border is a matter of risking one’s life, but it might be worth it if it means continuing to live.
The problems only continue once immigrants arrive in the United States, documented or undocumented. They are far from home and their home communities, in a land where there is a stigma on them. They are just “immigrants” or “illegals.” I have also heard Latin American immigrants called “wetbacks” on several occasions. And don’t forget that immigrants of Middle Eastern origin are sometimes labeled as “camel jockeys.” To top it all off, those who are undocumented are subjected to unjust wages—often below the minimum wage—and those who are documented are also exploited for their labor.
So how do we solve this problem? We can certainly try to lobby our government. There are just proposals out there. The Canadian government has a program that seems to treat immigrants both fairly and safely. I don’t know how soon we will actually see change or how effective it will be, but it is certainly in our power to lobby to change both our domestic immigration policies and our foreign policies. Comprehensive reform would affect our own Cincinnati community and immigrants throughout the country.
I think, however, each one of us is called to confront this problem not only on the systemic level as a justice issue, but on both the systemic and individual level as a Christian issue. The Church has long affirmed immigrant rights and the Mexican and American bishops jointly penned a pastoral letter on the issue only ten years ago. I still think we can summarize it in even simpler terms.
Jesus too was an immigrant as a child to Egypt to escape political persecution (Matt. 2:14-15). Neither can we ignore his mandate to welcome the stranger (Matt. 25:35-36). As Christian people, we are called to take care of our brothers and sisters and to advocate in their support. We have unique political privileges as Americans and we are called to use them in favor of all our brothers and sisters, not just the American ones.
This lent is a time to confess our social and national sins, whether they be sins of commission or complicity. It is time for us to remember that no one is illegal.
Nadie es ilegal.
Taylor Fulkerson is a sophomore majoring in philosophy and Spanish. He is currently on an Academic Service Learning Semester in Nicaragua. In his free time he enjoys listening to bands you’ve never heard of, reading books that no one else likes, and day-dreaming about making friends with the vicious dog that belongs to his Nicaraguan family.