December 2016: Immigration: Welcoming the Stranger?

December 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Immigration: Welcoming the Stranger?

Monday, December 12, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

America’s Indigenous People crossed no borders. The rest of us are immigrants and their descendants. Since English religious refugees first landed, without papers and starving, on the shores of the Powhatan Confederacy, earlier waves of immigrants have seen later ones as a problem. But why? The Bible’s Leviticus 19:34 says, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The very founders of Judaism and Christianity were all alien refugees or ex-slaves resettled in Africa and the Middle East. So why should we build a Wall? If America is the world’s melting pot, perhaps we can only melt so much at any one time? Or maybe people who don’t look like us, who believe differently, and who come from foreign lands just scare us? How do our religious, ethical, and historical beliefs about others, and about the land in which we live, guide us to treat a stranger in a strange land, when that land is also our home?

Fear of and distaste for immigrants seems a deep part of America’s cultural and religious history. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited citizenship to “free white individuals of good character.” (Restrictions on non-white immigrants, other than those Americans enslaved, were only lifted in 1940). Store signs once said, “No Irish need apply.” The Know Nothing Party in the 19th Century opposed newcomers, especially Catholic ones. The first mass use of photo IDs in 1892 was to force the “Godless Mongols” –Chinese-Americans, including not only immigrants but U.S.-born citizens — to carry them or risk arrest and deportation.

Fears of Jewish and Catholic immigrants from eastern and southern Europe led to a quota system in the 20th Century, and America turned away ships carrying Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. This begs the question, why did we accept the Statue of Liberty from France — and allow Emma Lazarus’ poem to be inscribed on it — in the first place? Has America ever really wanted to open its golden door, like Lady Liberty, to the tired and the poor, the “huddled masses” yearning to breathe free, the “wretched refuse” from teeming shores, and the “homeless tempest-tost”? Or has our lamp been lifted for only the young and pretty; the rich, elite, or expert; and for those who will slave away for less than minimum wage? (Or so desperate, threatened or beaten that they’ll slave for no wages at all)?

Today U.S. politicians speak of securing the borders and re-registering immigrants from Muslim countries. Some of the President-Elect’s supporters urge registering, or even expelling, all Muslims from the U.S., or call Islam “a political movement only couched as a religion.” Yet some U.S. religious congregations and politicians establish sanctuary churches and sanctuary cities; and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who took a tough stance against illegal immigrants, was overwhelmingly defeated for re-election. Which belief speaks for America? The belief in strict controls, or the belief in welcoming the stranger?

Caucasian immigrants, who posed a real existential threat to the New World’s indigenous peoples, ironically perceived later peaceful immigrant classes as threats. The threat was once Catholics, once Jews, once Asians, once Atheists; now Latinos and Muslims. But are there really 3 million criminal Latino illegal immigrants? Or do undocumented immigrants from south of the border do essential jobs that we won’t, all while knowing the Social Security tax they pay under their forged identity will never benefit them? Is the real face of Islam in America our nine Somali-American youths now sentenced in a Minnesota court for being internet-recruited to fight with ISIL in Syria? Or is it our other 30,000 Somali-Minnesotan neighbors who are hard-working taxpayers, entrepreneurs, cops, city council members, and legislators? Are Islamophobic attacks on Muslims and their places of worship the real danger to civil society? How do self-proclaimed Christians and atheists who have shot and murdered Muslim (and turban-wearing Sikh) neighbors, or burned and bombed mosques, justify their acts? Why are atheist refugees still excluded for U.S. asylum as victims of theist persecution? Is America indeed “One Nation” if all of us must accept being “under God” — and if God must also be called “Jehovah” instead of “Allah?”

Ultimately, what is our concern for our American Soul? That it’s becoming less Wonder-bread and more tortilla and pita bread? Are ethnic restaurants really all we desire from new Americans? Is there a basic national character we must preserve? Is it to be Judeo-Christian? Or to live by the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of any religion or no religion at all? Who among us is more “American?”

On December 12 (SECOND not THIRD Monday this month) from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue (corner of Summit & Pierce), St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will consider immigration and all its ramifications. There will be no Wall — entry requirements are only our reasoning dialogue agreements of acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality. Treats for everyone; no passport required!