The Holidays and the Undocumented

Something isn’t sitting well with me.

GOP Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann drew fire from Bill O’Reilly this past Monday when she clarified her stance on undocumented immigrants while being interviewed on his Fox News show. O’Reilly was following up on a statement Bachman made last Saturday at Mike Huckabee’s presidential forum (also on Fox News.) Bachmann stated that if she became President, she planned to deport all 10-12 million undocumented immigrants from our country.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

O’REILLY: But all of them that are here now are going to be an enormous problem…if you’re going to start dragging them out of here, it’s going to be very, very difficult to do that.

BACHMANN: But remember they broke the law to get in here there is a consequence.

O’REILLY: I’m not justifying it I’m just saying on human basis, I don’t think it… theory is one thing. Dragging people out, putting them on a bus with their children crying is going to be quite something else.

BACHMANN: It can be done. That’s the thing. It can be done and…

O’REILLY: It can be done but at what cost?

BACHMANN: It’s… but you know what it’s time we start acting like a first world nation and enforce our laws. Other nations enforce laws. Let’s do it.

O’REILLY: All right but you’re taking a very tough stance in a human way.

BACHMANN: It’s time… it’s time we do take a tough stance. I’m a compassionate person but we have to get tough on illegal immigration.”

[To watch the video or read a transcript of the entire interview, click here.]

Immigration reform is a very complicated issue. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do know that as an Anglo-American Christian, I can’t support Bachmann’s “Enforce the law, deport them all, no matter the cost” position. Here’s why:

First: I just celebrated Thanksgiving. A holiday which commemorates a harvest festival hosted by my people, English Pilgrims, at Plymouth Plantation in 1621. We had not asked for permission to settle at Plymouth from the nation’s current citizens; we just decided the land should be ours. We had arrived a year earlier and had suffered through a terrible winter, during which roughly half of our settlement died. But God moved the hearts of the land’s citizens to act mercifully toward us. They did not force us back onto our ship and send us home—a trip we undoubtedly would not have survived. Instead, Wampanoag king Massasoit donated food stores to us when our supplies brought from England ran out. And Squanto, a Patuxet citizen, taught us how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for us.

So when I see an undocumented immigrant, I see myself. I am forever grateful that when my people immigrated into this country they were received mercifully by its citizens. How can I not respond mercifully to this generation of immigrants? They came here for the same reasons many of my peoples did (I also have Irish and Scottish ancestors): to escape persecution, famine, disease, poverty, and violence. We left everything behind and braved a dangerous crossing on the chance we could provide a better life for our children.

Second: I am about to celebrate Christmas. During this season, I will create multiple opportunities to tell my children the story of a baby boy born in a stable in Israel, 2000 years ago. And not just any boy, a King. A King whose life was in danger because the current ruler of Israel didn’t want to lose his power. So he ordered a massacre of all male babies in the vicinity. Fortunately, an angel appeared to the baby King’s father in a dream, warning him to flee with his family to Egypt. The father didn’t wait for the morning; while it was still dark he woke his wife and baby and they began their long trek. No time to gather provisions or make arrangements.

When I see an undocumented immigrant, I see my Savior. The bible doesn’t say anything about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt. We don’t know what Egypt’s immigration policy was at that time. So I can’t say for sure that Jesus’ family was “undocumented.” But I can surmise with a fair amount of certainty that as cultural outsiders who didn’t speak Egyptian, they would have been vulnerable. God commanded Israel, “When [an immigrant] lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him…love him as yourself.” (Lev.19:33) I doubt the Egyptian gods prescribed the same. And what we do know is, when Jesus’ family did leave Egypt to return home, they did so on their own terms and time table.

As I said before, I don’t have all the answers to the immigration situation. But what concerns me is when I see fellow citizens speaking about and treating undocumented immigrants as though they are not even human. Maybe because so few of us actually know someone who’s undocumented, it’s harder to put ourselves in their shoes. To think about their stories. To consider their plight. To extend them mercy. Oh, but those of us who have known the love of Jesus, we who have drunk from His fountain of grace, we who have been extended mercy so far beyond what we deserve it causes us to fall on our faces in worship…how can we not extend mercy to those around us?

When I see the undocumented, I see myself.

Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exod. 23:9)

When I see the undocumented, I see my Savior.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was…a stranger and you invited me in…Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we…see you a stranger and invite you in?’…The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’”

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