Sunday, July 6, 2014

Strangers and Standing Orders

(From NASA/Jim Grossmann, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Some of America's new citizens at the Kennedy Space Center. July 1, 2010.)

When thirteen colonies declared independence from England, 238 years ago, my ancestors were still in Norway and the British Isles. They had different reasons for uprooting themselves and crossing the Atlantic.

Some came because they worshiped in the 'wrong' church. Others, because they wanted an alternative to poverty and famine. One came to keep a relative company on the ocean voyage: and stayed because she experienced near-terminal seasickness on the trip.

I'm here because America tolerated immigrants: grudgingly at times. As each new wave arrived, some 'regular Americans' accepted them, others didn't. Then there was the appalling matter of slavery. It took two centuries and a major war to sort that mess out:

The Irish and Other 'Threats'

(From Rjensen, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
("No Irish need apply" highlighted in this New York Times ad, from 1854.)

Some of my ancestors were none too pleased when one of those Irishmen came sniffing around their daughter. When asked about her daughter's suitor, one of my foremothers said, "he doesn't have family: he's Irish." (November 13, 2008)

I can understand her attitude. Quite a few 'proper' folks were convinced that those Irish were violent, indolent, and chronic drinkers: hardly the sort one would want marrying into the family. The daughter of a decent family and that Irishman got married, anyway. I think we earned our reputation for being garrulous and charming, and that's another topic.

When my father's father died, my father received a small inheritance from his maternal grandfather. My father figured that his grandfather didn't want 'that Irishman' to spend the money on whiskey and horses. Not that my father's father would have done so: but ethnic stereotypes often outvote reality.

I've never seen an "Irish need not apply" notice in a store window or the daily paper, America has had an Irish president, and most Americans seem to think the Irish are okay.

Now other ethnic and religious groups are on 'least wanted' lists.

Immigrants and the Greatest Commandment

The last I checked, the average American household doesn't spend more than our counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, but our consumer spending per household is the second-highest in the world. This is not a poor country.

Our economy could be doing better: but it could be a great deal worse. I think our "problem" with folks wanting to move here exists in large part because we're still one of the better places to raise a family.

I don't see immigrants as a problem, partly because all of my ancestors are immigrants. Wanting to exclude folks who are trying to do what my forebears did makes no sense. Not to me.

Even if I did feel that this should be the 'United States of Just Me and Mine,' I couldn't: or shouldn't, at any rate.

I'm a Catholic, and we have rules about that sort of thing. Here's what my Lord said about the greatest commandment:
"Jesus replied, 'The first is this: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."

"The second is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.' "
(Mark 12:29-31)
We get pretty much the same thing in Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-28.

The way I see it, given America's wealth and the standing orders to love our neighbor as ourselves, welcoming immigrants is an obligation.

"... A Stranger and You Welcomed Me...."

Over the last two millennia, some of the smartest folks in the world have realized that we can't love God if we hate our neighbor: and that everybody is our neighbor. The Catechism has a whole section devoted to how and why we should love our neighbors: all of them. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2196-2557)

Right after discussing the duties of parents and children; and pointing out that family ties are important, but not all there is to life; we get V. The Authorities in Civil Society, and this bit of instruction:
"The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
"Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2241)
The idea of treating folks who moved from another country the same way we treat old neighbors isn't particularly new. Here's part of what the Pentateuch has to say about immigrants:
"You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt."
(Exodus 23:9)

" 'When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him.

"You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God."
(Leviticus 19:33-34)

Life is very a high-stakes game, as my Lord pointed out in Matthew 25:31-46.

That includes treating strangers with dignity, respect, and charity:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,

"naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' "
(Matthew 25:31-36)
We're supposed to treat folks in need the way we'd want to be treated. (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31)

The idea of reciprocity we call the Golden Rule isn't, or isn't quite, unique to Christianity, and that's another topic. (May 25, 2014)

Immigration is a topic that often inspires more sound and fury than sense.

I think that folks who entered this country illegally are, technically, guilty of breaking this country's rules. I also think that those of us who were born here need to treat them with the respect we'd like to experience if we were in their position.

Besides: "legal" isn't always right, "illegal" isn't always wrong; and that's another topic.(July 2, 2012; July 1, 2012)

Finally — I think that America will be in trouble if folks ever stop trying to move here.

Related posts:

While some Americans were getting upset about the Irish and other threats to the 'Anglo-Saxon States of America,' Emma Lazarus wrote "The New Colossus." Two decades later the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the Statue of Liberty's lower level.

Some of what it says about the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" may seem insensitive these days: but I like the idea that folks are still trying to break into America.

(Image from Daniel Schwen, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

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