“Ah,” replied Bridget, “isn’t education a wonderful thing?”
I read this joke in a book about Irish American history. The author used it to describe the difficulty Irish immigrants had in being accepted into American society. Many Americans didn’t understand the Irish – not their “English,” nor their religion nor their self-deprecating humor. With comments like Bridget’s, many Americans didn’t know whether the Irish were sincere, were putting them on or making fun of them.
(My brother, Jack, who died in 2010 and whom I greatly miss, loved to tell the story about the time he and other family members were in County Waterford, Ireland. He struck up a conversation with a man on the street and asked him, “I notice two white lines painted here on the street, one straight and one squiggly. What do they mean? After some thought, the man answered, “The straight line means ‘No parking’ and the squiggly one means, ‘No parking at‘all.’” The guy may have been putting Jack on, but it’s still a good story.)
My point in telling the Bridget joke is this: Mexicans, Hondurans and Salvadorans are the new Irish. They are domestic servants, packing-house workers, roofers, restaurant busboys (and girls) and construction gofers. They do the kinds of jobs many of our ancestors did when they arrived in the U.S.
Unless you’re a Native American – and even then, your ancestors were immigrants, probably from Asia during the Ice Age – you are the child, grandchild, great grandchild or other descendant of immigrants. But how easily we forget. We tend to look down on the immigrants of today, much the same as many Americans looked down on our ancestors when they arrived from Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy and other poor areas of Europe. Most of them, like the Latin American immigrants of today, were searching for a better life.
The 2004 movie, A Day Without a Mexican, was sort of a science-fiction comedy set in Los Angeles in which all the city’s Mexicans suddenly disappeared. Without them, hardly anything got done. People were astonished about the extent to which they had become dependent on the cheap, ever-available labor of immigrants.
I write about this because believers must care about immigrants and their plight. Faith, after all, isn’t just a matter of believing. It’s about living your faith.
Mathew’s gospel has the story of John the Baptist who was obviously ticked off that members of the Pharisees and Sadducees, two politico-religious parties of his time, started showing up to listen to him preach but felt righteous because they were “children of Abraham.”
“…Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father;’” he said, “for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” What counts is how you live your life, he told them – the same message Jesus would deliver years later.
Of course, believing is important (even though many non-believers, as Pope Francis, has pointed out, live out Jesus’ message in their daily lives without knowing it), but it’s just a first step. Accepting God’s invitation to believe in him/her has consequences. It doesn’t come cheap. When you find God, his/her influence will show in every aspect of your life.
And that brings us back to immigration. To me, it’s not principally a political issue. Helping the immigrant is a traditional Judeo-Christian value.
"You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you,” says the Book of Leviticus in the Hebrew bible; “have the same love for him as for yourself, for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt."
Jesus took up the theme. In the famous Sermon on the Mount in the Christian Bible, he includes among reasons people will find the Kingdom of God: “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me….”
Just and humane treatment of immigrants has for decades been a constant teaching of the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches. Back in 1891, the papal letter Rerum Novarum listed the first principle that should guide a discussion of immigration: “People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.” Pope Francis has lamented the “global indifference” to the plight of immigrants and has urged a “reawakening of consciences.”
And in their pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, the U.S. Catholic bishops argue for “a series of reforms to the broken U.S. immigration system, including: 1) policies to address the root causes of migration, such as global poverty; 2) reform of our legal system, including an earned legalization program, a temporary worker program with appropriate worker protections, and reductions in waiting times in family-based immigration categories; and 3) restoration of due process for immigrants.”
People who are searching for God should, at the least, educate themselves about immigration reform. As Bridget said, “Education is a wonderful thing.”