Welcome the stranger
In our post 9/11 fear, America seems to be becoming less and less hospitable to strangers. If this happens, the terrorists have succeeded in instilling terror into our system. The Christian response needs to continue to lift up Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger in Matthew 25.
Under currently pending bills the Texas Legislature will basically have Houston law enforcement looking for people with brown skin, checking citizen status for anyone whom they suspect to possibly be an undocumented immigrant. Becoming more unfriendly to immigrants will devastate our economy, our spirituality and our rich and diverse culture.
Legislation racism is an ugly, longstanding tradition in the United States. "Old black Joe’s still picking cotton," as Leonard Cohen laments in "Everybody Knows."
Immigration has accounted for Houston’s robust economy. Immigrants have filled the economy’s desperate need for low-wage workers.
The Anglo population in Harris County has fallen from 37 percent to 33 percent in 10 short years. Latinos now account for 41 percent of the population. Asians and African Americans make up most of the rest.
We are becoming a microcosm of the United States, and the United States is becoming a globally diverse microcosm of the world. As Rice University’s Stephen Klineberg says, "We are a free people, and we are from everywhere."
Our fears are unfounded. Immigrants are paying taxes. They are contributing to the economy. They are learning English (at a much faster rate than my German immigrant ancestors did). They commit fewer crimes than citizens. None of the horrific acts of terrorism in the last few years were committed by Mexicans crossing the border in search of hard work.
So, why all the fuss?
On June 13, 2011, The Huston Chronicle reported a comment by the cofounder of Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas that reveals what I have long felt is the racism driving the issue:
"If you want to know why we can’t pass legislation in Texas it’s because we have 37, no 36 Hispanics in the Legislature. So, that’s part of our problem and we need to change those numbers," said Rebecca Forest, a co-founder of Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas. "We need to do something about that in fact."
Not everyone resisting the influx of strangers feels this way of course, but racism is a powerful undercurrent in the United States, and always has been. Black Americans, American Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Latinos. There is an underlying feeling, often unconscious, that there are "real" Americans (white descendants of Europe), and then there’s everyone else, essentially aliens, even if their families have been here 250 years.
In Texas, it’s amusing. I once heard a white Texan of German descent ask a Latino man when he moved here. This fully bilingual man had lived here his whole life. His ancestors had ranches on this land before Europeans starting coming over, and long before Texas was part of the United States. She was only a third-generation American.
I don’t get to make laws. Not my job. But as Americans we have the right to discuss them, and as Christians we have the responsibility to challenge unjust and uncharitable laws. This stuff smells bad to me. I hope we will talk about what it means to welcome the stranger in Texas and Louisiana.
"When I was a stranger you welcomed me…"
Originally posted June 14, 2011, at Bishop Mike. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Michael Rinehart’s blog Bishop Mike at Lutheran Blogs.