The Immigrant

immigrants at ellis island

Today I drove home from an overnight trip to Dallas. As I snaked my way south on I-35, I scanned my radio station options and came across an awesome find: A vintage version of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, from May 3, 1975.

I got to sing along with mid-70’s gems like David Bowie’s “Young Americans”, John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, and Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Shining Star.” Of course there were a few cheesy tunes best left in the 70’s too—Michael Murphy’s “Wildfire”, anyone?

I was familiar with most of the songs, but coming in at #22 was one I had never heard before: “The Immigrant” by Neil Sedaka. It was the B-side to Sedaka’s hit, “Laughter in the Rain.” The lyrics are as follows:

Harbors open their doors to the young searching foreigner
Come to live in the light of the big L of liberty
Plains and open skies bill boards would advertise
Was it anything like that when you arrived
Dream boats carried the future to the heart of America
People were waiting in line for a place by the river

It was time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere

Now he arrives with hopes and his heart set on miracles
Come to marry his fortune with a hand full of promises
To find they’ve closed the door they don’t want him anymore
There isn’t anymore to go around
Turning away he remembers he once heard a legend
That spoke of a mystical magical land called America

I learned that Sedaka dedicated the song to John Lennon, who at the time was being denied permanent resident status by the U.S. government.

But the lyrics seemed especially poignant today, considering the recent hubbub about immigration reform, and in particular Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which was signed by Governor Brewer on Friday.

I don’t know how to answer all the questions about immigration reform in our country—it’s a very complex issue. But I do have two guiding principles that inform my thinking on the issue.

First, as a European-American I acknowledge that my people were once immigrants in this country too. And my people weren’t nearly as respectful of our country’s indigenous people and their customs when they arrived some three centuries ago as the current generation of American immigrants—illegal or not—are.

Second, as a follower of Christ I remember that my God has a special heart for immigrants. Leviticus 19:33-34 says:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

By no means am I promoting a cavalier attitude toward the laws of our country. But I do call forth the book of James—one of the toughest of the New Testament epistles—which proclaims that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

The more popular stance among white American evangelicals (like me) is to favor tougher immigration standards, like those in Arizona SB 1070. But my fellow believers, I appeal to your sense of mercy: Let’s spend time in the Word and ask the Father to conform our hearts to His when it comes to responding to the plight of the immigrant.

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