Why Arizona is Wrong

I know that most of my friends, enemies, and passing readers will disagree with me. When the Arizona legislature passed a law allowing the stopping and questioning of anyone suspected of being an illegal alien and made it criminal trespass for an illegal alien to be present on any public or private land in Arizona (thus helping to facilitate their detention and deportation due to the commission of a crime), they did the wrong thing. For once (and probably only once) I agree with President Obama and a lot of Democrats. I don’t necessarily have the same reasons for supporting the same policy, because I think the Arizona law is in violation of Biblical principles and the economic free-market principles that made America great.

The Arizona law does reflect the views of the majority of Americans. Sad, but true. In fact, it reflects the view of the majority of Americans for most of the 20th century as well as this first decade of the 21st. It reflects attitudes of isolationism (not so bad) and protectionism (a bit more bad). This idea of coming to America and shutting the door behind us first reached fever pitch in 1882, with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was made to look a bit more like the current Arizona legislation by the Geary Act in 1892. Almost all Asians were barred from entry in the Immigration Act of 1917.

The Emergentcy Quota Act of 1921 limited the number of immigrants to 3% of the number of persons living in the US at the 1910 census who had been born in that country.  The purpose of this was to keep out eastern and southern Europeans and allow in more northern and western Europeans. The Immigration Act of 1924 reduced this to 2%. Interestingly, it did not restrict immigration from Latin America. No one was worried about Mexicans then. Rather it was an effort to keep out all those Italians.

Then along came the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). This allowed for anyone in the country illegally, even with an expired visa, or guilty of the tiniest crminal offense, to be detained for deportation. It was only because the Supreme Court intervened in Zadvydas v. Davis that the detention cannot be indefinite, though the Court held that “Despite the constitutional problem here, if this Court were to find a clear congressional intent to grant the Attorney General the power to indefinitely detain an alien ordered removed, the Court would be required to give it effect.” So Congress can decide that without any criminal proceedings, those with expired visas can be given an effective life sentence. In addition,  IIRIRA imposes draconian sanctions on re-entry to the US after overstaying a visa.

There’s the review of US immigration law. Now how does it hold up to Biblical principles? Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Torah and in the Prophets, it is very clear how the Israelites were to treat strangers and aliens who settled among them. For the sake of space, and because it succinctly summarises the teaching of Holy Scripture, I will just refer to Leviticus 19:34 – The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

The first part is obvious. You should treat aliens (which is what the term stranger means) as someone native to your country. How you treat him is indicative of whether you are following the second great commandment given by Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself. However, that last bit of the verse is very instructive, especially for Americans. It applies to us because it reveals the reason we should be generous with immigration.

“…because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” is a powerful statement. It is so hypocritical for the children of immigrants to deny immigration to others. Unless you are entirely of Amerindian descent, then at some time since 1607, your  ancestors washed up on these shores, probably without a visa, and made a life for themselves. The law of Moses was not given just to the first generation of settlers in the Promised Land. In fact almost all of those to whom it was originally given died before getting there. It wasn’t the readers and hearers of Leviticus personally who had been strangers in the land of Egypt, but rather their ancestors. Because their ancestors had been immigrants in Egypt, they were to treat their own immigrant peoples as they would want to be treated. They were to love their immigrant neighbors as themselves. Now you can argue against the applicability of the Law of Moses to civil law, but in this case you argue against the teaching of Jesus, Who said this same thing.

IIRIRA and the INA, just like the Immigration Act of 1917, the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, and the Immigration Act of 1924, fly in the face not just of the Mosaic Law, but of the teaching of Jesus.

But let’s de-spiritualise it for a moment and just look at our nation’s history. Hardly was the bronze plaque fixed to the Statue of Liberty before the words of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet were eroded – worn down now to the point of of being meaningless. We all know them:

“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!”

Just like in 1917 and 1924, the US employs quotas. We still only want people from certain countries (if you are from the UK, for example, you can’t even enter the green card lottery). Most of the quota allotments are reserved for PhDs, professional athletes, researchers who are recognized internationally, business executives, and investors. We also let in a few Filipino nurses. The others don’t fit our protectionist, anti-capitalist, anti-free market model.

But for me the standard by which immigration policy and law must be judged: you shall love him as yourself. Does the new Arizona law meet that standard? I don’t think so.

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