Our chavurah met last Saturday evening, after the controversial Arizona immigration bill had hit the media, and we had a lively discussion.
We live in New Mexico, a majority-minority state with the highest percentage Hispanic population in the country (at 43.4% according to Wikipedia), where, today, Cinco de Mayo, is a real holiday with crowds packing our neighborhood Mexican restaurant and all the grocery stores, as people stock up to celebrate whatever happened in Mexico on May 5. (I actually know what happened on that date in 1862, but I’m not sure that most of those celebrating it know.) So, you’d imagine that New Mexicans are not happy with Arizona’s anti-immigrant sentiments, but then Arizona is our next-door neighbor, and we share a stretch of the same troubled Mexican border that it does. And besides, most of our Hispanic population is not really made up of immigrants, since their families already lived here before the U.S. invasion in the 1840s. In New Mexico, the Hispanics are the old-timers (after the Native Americans, of course, who make up a hefty ten percent of the population), and they look a bit askance at all the newcomers, Latino as well as Anglo.
So feelings about Arizona’s new law are mixed in our state, but the chavurah seemed to be drifting in the direction of unquestioning support for Arizona and tough rhetoric about immigration. As chavurah leader, I felt compelled to make two Jewishly-related observations:
First, a recent Torah reading, Parashat K’doshim, contains this verse:
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. (Lev. 19:34, NKJV)
In Divine Reversal, I discuss this verse in the context of Yeshua’s command to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43ff.):
Leviticus 19 commands us to love not only our neighbor, but also the alien, or stranger, as ourselves. And alien is defined in terms of Israel’s experience as an alien in Egypt. . . . The Israelites kept themselves separate from the Egyptians, maintained different values and customs, and proved to be strangers not just in origin, but also in their outlook and practice. They resisted assimilation into Egypt. Since you were aliens like this, Moses says, you are to love aliens, even aliens like this, as well. “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 23:9). In the same way, the alien whom we are to love might be different from us, not just the “good” outsider who is trying his best to be like us. The stranger might even turn out to be at enmity with us, as Israel was, or was perceived to be, during its sojourn in Egypt.
Sure, a nation has the right and even responsibility to maintain its borders, but the believer has the responsibility to respect and be concerned for the alien, even the one who snuck in illegally, or who doesn’t show much inclination to drop his Spanish, forget about Cinco de Mayo, and assimilate. We can argue some other time about how respect and concern should play out, but surely they will avoid the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric that is employed without much thought at times by those who claim to follow Yeshua.
Then there’s a second Jewish connection. One of our chavurah members said that she didn’t have any problem with immigrants, as long as they came in legally and played by the rules, like her grandparents. The problem with that objection is that immigration was wide-open back when our grandparents or great-grandparents came to America. In the 1920s things began to tighten up, partly in response to the huge numbers of Jews who had already made it into America. If the rules that folks should play by today were in place back in the pre-World War I era, the great Jewish migration to America would never have happened, and our parents would have been born in the doomed Jewish communities of Poland or Russia, and most of us would never have been born at all.
I’m not staking out a position in this blog on Arizona’s immigration law, except to agree with concerns that it might provide a pretext for racial profiling and harassment. The onus is on Arizona officials to see that the law doesn’t do what its opponents fear. Mainly though, I’m simply trying to think about the issue outside the usual right-wing and left-wing boxes. Politics at the service of ethics is what I’m after, and there’s some complex ethical terrain to navigate here.