Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land; here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “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-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Emma Lazarus, November 2, 1883)
Don’t mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you…?’ Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 25:35-40)
Walking to a Land of Hope
To better understand the immigration crisis, I try to imagine myself as a poverty-stricken father in Haiti, or Venezuela, or Nicaragua, or Guatemala, or El Salvador, or Honduras. Not only am I dirt poor, I am threatened by raging violence from kidnappers and gangs. I can’t feed my children. I fear that our home will soon be destroyed by marauding thugs who want to kill me and my son, and rape my wife and daughters. There is no question in my mind that if we stay, we will all be brutalized and killed.
There is only one solution: walk north to America, a land of hope. It is a daunting and perilous journey through gang-infested jungles, across dangerous rivers, and though territories controlled by thugs, rapists and thieves. America’s leaders say they will turn us back, that our journey and all of the hardships will be in vain. But there is no hope for my son and daughters if we stay. We will all fall to hunger or violence. Maybe by the time we get to America, American hearts will soften. Maybe there is hope. So, we strap on our sandals, lift our back packs and walk out to join a multitude of others who are seeking a place where human dignity is valued.
That faint glimmer of hope burns brightly in the hearts and minds of thousands of displaced people, people who want nothing more than safety and basic human rights. They don’t see the political thicket that immigration has become in the United States. In their mind’s eye they see the light in Lady Liberty’s lamp raised high “beside the golden door.”
A Humanitarian Crisis
As thousands of migrants risk their lives seeking that faint glimmer of hope, our politicians debate the issue of immigration like––well, like it is a partisan political issue. How, they wonder, can we control our borders and protect our sovereignty? To me, controlling borders is not the issue. This is the issue: how do we deal with a humanitarian crisis?
Answers to that question are not building walls, locking people in jails or sending them back to face hopeless poverty, brutalization and death. The answers we seek are certainly not in the whips of horse-mounted border patrol agents who beat people trying to cross a river that separates hopelessness from hope.
Further, the crisis is not an American one alone; it is global and it needs a global solution. The crisis is that there are millions of starving, scared, desperate people walking away from Central and South America, from Africa, from the middle east, and from despotic Eastern European countries. These are people whose choice is too often death by hunger, death by slaughter, imprisonment––or, asylum in a country that is committed to humanitarian values.
Compassion and Dignity
The immigration problem runs parallel to the existential crisis of combating climate change, and it requires the same level of global attention. I do not know the answer, but I know that it starts with treating people with compassion and dignity, and I know that it requires the action of a world community.
In America we must stop seeing immigration as a partisan political issue. Instead of imagining immigrants as threats to our sacred sovereignty, we should gaze into the eyes of the men, women and children to see their desperate pleas for our compassionate response. We who profess to be “People of the Book” need to ponder the Leviticus call to “love the foreigner as much as we love ourselves;” and, to live out Jesus’s message in our actions: how we respond to the neediest among us is how we respond to him.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.