Interpreting the News

Perhaps you’ve heard about the group of migrants headed towards the United States from Central America?  No?  Can you tell me how you are able to remain undisturbed by these sorts of tidbits?  I’m willing to invest in whatever technology you’re using!

So the local paper carried a Reuters article about the progress of the migrant caravan so far, and I’ve spent the last 20 minutes trying to interpret it.  It’s easy to just gloss over the specifics, but I decided to actually try and make sense of what the article claimed to tell me.

It tells me that first of all, the caravan numbers  in the thousandsMost of them are from Honduras.  This is the second paragraph of the article.  But in the 4th paragraph, I’m told that the caravan started with hundreds of people in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.  Google maps showed me that location in northwestern Honduras, close to the border with Guatemala.  Now, after passing through all of Guatemala, the caravan numbers thousands of people and yet most of them are Honduran?  I’m not sure how that makes sense, but I suppose it could actually be true.

Mexican officials, I’m told, are trying to navigate between our country’s demands that they stop the migrants, and their commitment to migrants’ rights.  First off, I think our leadership needs to cool their jets.  It’s not our job to tell Mexico (or Guatemala, or Honduras) how to enforce their borders.  Clearly, as this article demonstrates, that control is illusory at best.  If Mexico wants to let thousands of unknown people wander through their country, so be it.  They claim to be carefully processing everyone and I hope that they are – that’s the responsible thing to do.  President Trump or anyone else shouldn’t be telling them what or how to do things.

Of course, the understanding is that the only reason this is being paid attention to is that it fuels the fires for conflicts here at home over immigration.  I was  very impressed that this article characterized the two sides of our domestic debate more fairly than I typically see or hear.  One side supports legal immigration and the enforcement of federal immigration law.  The other side has some people who support abolishing ICE and [establishing] open borders.  I think that’s a reasonable  description of the sides.

Publicity of this caravan only is helpful to the latter side.  By highlighting the humanitarian crisis of these people, pressure will be put to bear on anyone who denies them entry into their country – ours or otherwise.  Those who support immigration control can use this as an example of why we need to protect our borders, but frankly, that’s an obvious assertion anyways.  I don’t know of many countries in the world – all right, any – who don’t control their borders.  I don’t know of any countries who don’t have policies about how to handle people who want to come into their country.

Except maybe Mexico and Guatemala, who seem to have some policies but are fine with disregarding them.  I’m not sure I’d agree to welcome with open arms a mob that tears down fences and demands entry on the basis of wanting a better life.  The want is valid.  The means, not so much.

Our country has policies as well, but there are people who apparently don’t like them and think we should ignore them.  I maintain that if we don’t like our immigration policies, we need to rewrite the laws rather than simply decide if we want to enforce them or not.  Doing so is actually a benefit to potential immigrants – it allows them to know what to expect if and when they reach our borders.  It’s far more humanitarian to actually establish and follow laws and procedures and policies, rather than leave it up to the whims of an official or bureaucrat as to whether they are enforced or not.

All of which misses the main point.  If San Pedro Sula – and by extension all of Honduras – is riddled with crime, why aren’t we pressuring or helping the Hondurans to establish some sort of rule of law?  Why is there absolutely no talk of why people are fleeing Honduras, only what we should do with them if or when they reach our borders?  Isn’t  the main humanitarian crisis in Honduras then, not making it’s way through Mexico?  And if these people come from such a corrupt, crime-infested country, and if they’re willing to disregard international rules of law regarding how to enter a country, then why in the world wouldn’t we carefully screen and scrutinize them before allowing them into our country?

I’m all for being merciful and responding to the plight of others, but unfortunately this article doesn’t do any of that, and neither are either of our political parties.  Similar to the refugee and immigrant crisis Europe has faced over the last few years prompted by the civil war in Syria, the major issue shouldn’t be how to put these people into new countries and cultures, but rather how to make sure that these people don’t have to leave home in the first place.  Humanitarian efforts, or democratic efforts shouldn’t be a political football here at home.

But I digress.

The second issue is (continued from my paragraph four) the issue of migrant rights.  What rights, precisely, does someone have who comes to the border of a country and asks to be let in?  I think most people would agree that the only practical rights are the rights that the country gives them.  If I show up on the border of Canada and want to come in and live there, I should expect that they should ask me some questions.  I should expect that this may take some time.  I may not get in right away.  I may have to stay on this side of their border until they know whether or not they want to let me in.  If I’m requesting humanitarian aid, then likely the wait is better than whatever I’m facing on this side of the border.  Hopefully they’ll offer me some food or something.  Perhaps they’ll have an internment area where I can stay if my safety or health is in danger.  Politically speaking, that would be very kind and generous of them.  I’m not sure it’s a  right of mine as an immigrant that they would be ethically bound to honor, or honor beyond a certain point.

I can say as a Christian that I might be tasked with providing a  migrant with assistance.  Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbor makes pesky business of these issues of geo-political boundaries.  I can’t not love the person standing in front of me because of their immigration status.  If they’re in front of me and I can help, I probably should.

However that does NOT mean I must support open borders or no immigration enforcement.  There is nothing in the Bible that I can see as a clear mandate to ignore the rule of law and ignore national laws and borders.  I can see lots of places in Scripture that call me to respect and honor them as much as I can while maintaining my faith and worship of God.  And it doesn’t mean that if someone is here illegally and suffering that I’m under no obligation to show love to them.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it works just the other way.  But that doesn’t mean that I have to support legislation that provides a legal support framework carte blanche for people who come to this country.  We live in a broken and sinful world and therefore need to be wise in how we do things.  That includes immigration.  Wise, but compassionate.  Firm, but loving.  Those can be hard things to manage.  Just another of those tensions we are called to live in, Biblically.

If a stranger shows up pounding at my door at 3 am and demanding help, what do I do?  First off, it’s not unreasonable to try and ensure the safety of myself and my family before I open the door.  I may choose to yell back and forth through the door with this person until I have a better idea of who they are and if they pose a threat to me.  Let’s say I open the door to talk and find out what’s going on.  What rights does this person have?  What can they demand of me?  Can they demand that I let them sleep on my couch just because it’s raining and they don’t have a place to stay?  Perhaps.  But that’s a contextual decision, not a policy.  We’ve actually opened our home to someone we only just met so they had a place to stay for the night.  It was an unusual situation in which we were pretty sure we were not going to be robbed or killed or otherwise harmed.  But it would be lunacy and irresponsibility to say that we had to make that offer to anyone who demanded it of us.

I may not let the person in my house to dry off or sleep on the couch.  Sorry, but I have responsibilities to my family to consider first.  That doesn’t mean I’m unloving.  Nor does it mean I can just slam the door on them and feel justified.  As a Christian I should still desire to be of help if I can.  Maybe it’s giving them an umbrella or a jacket.  Maybe it’s offering to pay for a hotel room.  Maybe it’s directing them to the local warming center.  Maybe it’s taking them there.  Situations vary.  Responses vary.  I’ll undoubtedly end up making a few mistakes here and there.  I desire to do good but I’m not perfect or omniscient.  Knowing that, I try to err on the side of caution without losing love for this person as a creation of God’s.

Is that not a reasonable analogy?  Explain to me how it isn’t, other than a matter of scale and degrees of separation in terms of me personally having to deal with the situation.

On the national level it gets trickier, but I think the same principles hold true.  We need to deal with people in love as much as we can, but that doesn’t mean that they get to dictate what that love is and how it looks and feels.  It’s complicated, but it’s not rocket science necessarily.  Think about how you would handle the situation in the middle of the night at your own home, and then extend those principles to the national level.  Quit screaming at each other and figure out something that works.  Act like adults instead of petulant children.  Lives are at stake here – we owe it to those truly in need to figure out how best to help them.

Then we can try to help people so that they can stay in their homes safely rather than trekking thousands of miles to a new place and being subjected to all of the dangers and inconveniences that entails.

 

 

 

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