By Miguel De La Torre
The beloved apostle John, while exiled on the island of Patmos, wrote a letter to the Christian church of Laodicea. He accused the church of being neither cold nor hot. Because they were lukewarm, God spit them out.
The church of Laodicea said to itself: “I am rich. I have made a fortune and have everything I want.” Yet God said they failed to realize just how wretchedly and pitiably poor they had become, blind and naked. Nevertheless, while in the midst of their sin, God sent Laodicea a redeemer.
“Look,” said our Lord. “I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share their meal.”
Who is this one we call Lord standing at the door of our churches asking to be let in? Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the very least of these, we do unto him.
It is the undocumented alien knocking at our church’s door, the very least among us, who is Jesus in the here and now. The question we must therefore ask is if we will let him in?
Latino/as, even though they have lived for hundreds of years on the land that would eventually become the United States, are seen as aliens. Many find themselves in the U.S. because of the quasi-religious ideology of Manifest Destiny, when the United States conquered foreign lands, as in the case of northern Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Others are here as a result of gunboat diplomacy, as in the case of people from Central America and the Caribbean. Territorial invasions and the exploitation of the natural resources by U.S. corporations led to conditions that eventually fostered their immigration to the imperial center.
We find ourselves refugees and aliens in the country responsible for us being here. Even our descendants are not spared the indignation of being seen as foreigners, regardless of how many generations have inhabited the land. Our Latino/a physical features or Hispanic surnames make us a “race” that doesn’t belong.
Yet Jesus’ approach to the alien is quite different. In fact, Jesus tied salvation to how we treat aliens.
On the Day of Judgment, as recorded by Matthew, all will be separated as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To the sheep on his right Jesus will say: “Come, you who are blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was … an alien and you took me in.” But to the goats on his left Jesus will say: “Go away from me, cursed ones, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was … an alien and you did not take me in” (Mt. 25:31-46).
For Jesus, the difference between the saved and the damned is not what doctrine they professed, what church they belonged to or what profession of faith they proclaimed. The difference between sheep and goats is what they did, or did not do, with the aliens within their midst.
What guidelines, if any, can be derived from the biblical call for liberation? The past years have witnessed an attempt to come to terms with the presence of undocumented aliens. Regardless of the form future legislation may take, as Christians, there exist moral guidelines by which our handling of undocumented aliens can be judged. They are:
1.) Laws and regulations that criminalize a group of individuals create an environment of racial profiling where overt expressions of ethnic discrimination — specifically toward Latino/as, both immigrants and U.S. citizens — flourish. This creates an immoral situation where possible employers and social service agencies, fearing governmental reprisals, find it financially safer to discriminate against those who appear “foreign.”
2.) To deny preventive health care services to any human being based on documented status is inhumane, against the express mandate of the biblical text (i.e., the story of the Good Samaritan) and places an increased burden on emergency health services.
3.) To refuse enforcing labor protection based on documentation status hurts all workers, including native-born, by allowing the continuation of labor exploitation. When workers’ rights are denied to one group, labor standards are lowered, negatively impacting all workers.
4.) Refusing to seriously consider the economic realities of the immigration debate — and respond to it by creating a safe and orderly manner for immigrants to enter the U.S. — creates a humanitarian crisis where those crossing the border find death in the desert, fall into the hands of unscrupulous human smugglers or find employment with unprincipled business owners.
5.) To break up families is cruel and inhumane, causing psychological damage to children separated from their parents. When the well-publicized Swift plant raids occurred on Dec. 12, 2006, arresting 1,300 undocumented workers, hundreds of their children — who are U.S. citizens by birth — found themselves without a nurturing parent. Family values cannot solely focus on the family of those privileged by whiteness or class. All have a right to be united with love ones.
6.) The reduction of humans to formulas designed to ascertain the common good contradicts the very image of God possessed by all humans. This Imago Dei safeguards basic human rights to earning a living wage, safety from physical or emotional trauma and family unity. Our present immigration laws deny these basic human rights to over 12 million undocumented aliens residing in the U.S.