Note: This post was originally written for the e-news for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in California-Nevada on March 1, 2012. That is who I am referencing when I say “the region.”
Exodus 22:21, NIV
“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” Last week there was an article in Business Week about the impact of of Alabama’s strict immigration law put into effect last fall. The intent of the law was clear–Alabama had an 8% unemployment rate, and they were afraid their citizens’ jobs were being filled by undocumented workers. They passed a bill allowing police to question anyone they suspected might be in the US illegally, including children in school.
The first part of the impact was exactly what the state officials had hoped–immigrants left in droves. The second part, however, came as a shock: almost 60% of the crops in Alabama rotted in the field, and the diminished workforce has led to a loss in state economy that has caused a potential loss of 70,000 jobs in the state, many held by US citizens.
Immigration is a complicated issue with all sorts of unforseen consequences to any action taken by our political leaders today. Things were less complicated back when the book of Exodus was written. God could offer such a clear command to God’s people because, while battles raged over whose territory belonged to whom, there weren’t official political borders. Treating aliens well didn’t require the question of whether those aliens had proper documentation. In some instances, those aliens were slaves and servants who were the spoils of war. The political rules of the era were different. But the call to basic human decency remains the same today.
A couple of years ago, a huge environmental crisis struck our own Salinas Valley, and hard-working farmers suffered. They suffered enough that the US government gave them subsidies to tide them through the very difficult season and loss of crops. But some of our churches in the valley realized that while the owners of the farms were struggling, the people facing the worst crisis were the migrant farm workers, who only get paid when there’s something to pick. They requested and received an emergency grant from Week of Compassion to help provide food and sustenance to those workers who were going hungry, who couldn’t pay for heat and electricity, and who would not get a government grant in their time of need. The churches didn’t focus on the status of those workers–they focused on their belief that God would want them to provide for the people who put food on all of our tables. And Week of Compassion remembered God’s call from Exodus 22:21 and responded heroically.
The people who passed the immigration law in Alabama meant to help their own community. But this is the funny thing about God’s law–even when it runs counter to our logic, it is very often designed to help us as much as the people we think we’re helping. Exodus 22:21 helps us retain our humanity, our identity, and our humility–we are almost all immigrants to this great land, those of us who remember the flight here firsthand and those of us who descended from people who arrived on the Mayflower. And we have been treated well by the indigenous communities on whose land we walk and live and plant. It turns out that treating the immigrant well can restore our own humanity (and, as the state of Alabama has learned, it might actually be good business sense).
I am proud to be in a region not driven by fear. I am proud to be in a region where we live by God’s law and where our churches feel called to care for God’s children in times of need. I am proud that we are collecting our offering across this region for Week of Compassion and I pray it will be generous, as our resources help plant crops in Republic of Congo and start bee colonies in Bosnia that unite people of warring religions and feed the people who feed us by the sweat of their brows in the fields of the Salinas Valley. In these ways we model God’s abundant love for all of us, alien and resident and citizen alike.