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Immigration and War

April 7th, 2006 by Jason · 13 Comments

Reading something like this just drives me nuts:

The U.S. spent a staggering $783 billion in 2005 on the military.

As a result, 42 cents out of every dollar you’re paying in taxes this year is going to the military.

Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)

Let me explain why it drives me particularly nuts this morning. The current hot topic is immigration reform and the government is putting forth all sorts of proposed “solutions” to the problem of the constant stream of illegal immigrants coming across America’s borders. Yet, if we look at the history of immigration reform acts in America (which included things like building fences in San Diego), all of which were promised to be the “solution” to immigration, none of them have had much success. Building a fence in San Diego just pushed the problem from the crowded cities to the barren borders farther east where small, rural communities feel overwhelmed and those crossing the border are more likely to die of dehydration.

As Camassia insightfully points out the example Paul gives in dealing with Onesimus and Philemon is one of following the letter of the law while challenging the social situation that gave rise to the problem. Her point intersects with what Dr. Robert Pastor talked about on last week’s Latino USA: if we want a real, long-term solution to illegal immigration we need to address the source, not just the symptoms. If history tells us anything, fences, increased border control, deportation, and felonization are going to do little when you are unemployed or barely scraping by and you know you can make 10 times more in the U.S. Dr. Pastor suggests that the long-term, effective solution to the immigration problem would be if we invested $80 billion in economic and infrastructure development in Mexico, thereby increasing the number of jobs and average wage in one countries from which a fair number of immigrants arrive (I realize only half of illegal immigrants come from Mexico, so this would be a partial solution, but still a decent first step). That’s similar to what the E.U. did when it was formed, as there was a similar worry that there would be a massive migration from poorer countries, like Ireland, to more well-off European countries. And, surprisingly enough, it appears to have worked well enough.

Of course, the sticking point for such a proposal is that monstrous $80 billion (spread out over a number of years, of course). Such an amount seems outrageous until you realize that amount is only 10% of what we spent on war in one year!

Tags: current events · immigration · war

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 isaac // Apr 7, 2006 at 11:30 am

    thanks for posting on the immigration issue. It’s such a hot topic these days and I felt ashamed that we haven’t posted on it. I have to admit, I thought about posting something a number of times, but I think I’m just too frustrated with what I hear people saying that I think it’s best not to say anything—I think I remember my mom telling me something like that: If you have nothing nice to say, better not to say anything at all. The thing that gets me every time I read Christians talking about immigration stuff (I am especially thinking about that immigration article in the March issue of Christianity Today), is this one-to-one correspondence between the USA and something like ‘the ethics of Scripture.’ So, someone cites the passages in Exodus or Leviticus about hospitality to the resident alien as the decisive ethic for US immigration policy. Then someone dismantles that analogy and instead turns to Romans 13 as a justification for the status quo—”The state is ordained by God so we have to support what they say.” And all I want to say, every time I hear this sort of thing, is this: The Bible does not belong to the State or State policy… It’s written to a different political body, the church. I agree with Jason that Camassia does point a way forward through all this silliness. She writes, “it seems to me that the Philemon epistle at least provides an attitude to approach ministry to illegal aliens with. So far the talk I’ve seen seems to be polarized between, ‘You’re welcome here, to hell with the unjust law,’ and ‘You lawbreaker, get back to your own country.’ But a better long-term goal would be to equip immigrants to create alternatives back in their homes.” I’m not sure about the second bit of what she wrote, but the first part has to be true: “an attitude to approach ministry to illegal aliens.” That focus seem right on to me. It’s about the church’s ministry. Paul is writing to a church about how a particular master and slave are supposed to display the new humanity, the new social reality of the kingdom, a new way to relate to one another.

    The reason why I get all worked up about this attempt to use Scripture to figure out something like ‘just’ immigration policy is that there seems to be an underlying assumption that this political arrangement called the United States of America has a special role in God’s work and it should try to work toward that good plan. No way. If that were the case, then the church as those pilgrim people living as a foretaste of the everlasting kingdom of God is meaningless. Why care about evangelism and baptism into the church when we got this better political body to sustain: the new world, the promised land, manifest destiny, from sea to shining sea, blessed America?

    The other thing that always gets me is how in the world we think we can talk about US immigration policy and border issues when those lines were established after unjust wars with Mexicans (and, later, slimy money deals), and all-out US genocide of the native americans. Those borders are written with blood. They scream of violence. It seems to me, if the US policy makers cared at all, they should look into what they (and, for some, “we”) could do in terms of practices of repentance and reparations. I don’t know, that might be a start.

  • 2 Eric Lee // Apr 7, 2006 at 1:31 pm


    Richard John Neuhaus would disagree with your second-to-last paragraph in regards to the place in history of the U.S. (See his essay in First Things) But, then again, I disagree with him! :)

    Anyway, I don’t have any particular policies to propose, because who am I, and I don’t think I should propose any anyway, but I will offer an observation:

    A few months back, I joined with a bunch of ther Christians at the U.S./Mexican border for an annual event called La Posada. It’s a time where we (I would argue) engage in the work of mercy of burying the dead of those who died while trying to cross the border. I have a Flickr set of that time here. We were given a list of a few hundred names to write on paper bags so that we could fill them with sand and place a candle inside. Most of those who died while trying to cross the border were between the Mexico/Arizona border, I think. Many died of starvation, many died of gunshot wounds to the face and elsewhere. Most were in their twenties, but there were also the elderly, and also the very young, including children under ten years old and some pregnant mothers as well. Not everybody on the list had names.

    It was a time of mourning as we read off the list of names, but also of celebration that one day, these arbitrary borders will no longer exist. There was singing, and there were tears.

    Halfway through the evening, the border guards came around on their ATV’s. After driving around down at the beach and talking to a few people, they came up the hill and just sat and watched. I struck up conversation with the two of them. It was pretty casual and mundane—just me asking them how they were doing and about how things were going in general.

    What struck me more than anything else is their language. Those trying to cross the border were not people first. They were first ‘aliens’ or ‘illegals.’ (Kinda similar, I guess, to how cops talk about the ‘perpetrator’ they just shot or something.) Those on the other side of the border could very well have been ‘potential illegals’ if they just decided to squeeze through the fence.

    The state does not know how to talk about, let alone treat people not within its own ‘borders’ (nor, I would argue, within its own borders!). I don’t even think it wants to do so. It trains its border patrol and police to only think of those outside itself as those ‘against’ oneself. Talk about a fundamentally-perceived ‘ontology of violence!’

    I think until we as the Church can show others that everybody is first and foremost a person, a gift, created in the image of God, and not first seen against as an ‘illegal,’ we are going to have serious problems or even an impossibility about solving any real immigration issues. If we ever do figure out a way to let that witness shine bright enough, I hope by then, somehow, immigration wouldn’t be a problem anyway because the borders won’t exist.



  • 3 Jason // Apr 8, 2006 at 11:40 am

    Eric, thanks for the link to that Neuhaus article. Though I disagreed with some of its main theses (specifically the idea that we have a dual allegiance to the church and America) there were some points with which I could agree. That the church is to be a “contrast society” I can definitely agree with. This seems to be at the crux of his argument, and I have mixed feelings about it: Any suggestion that one nation is more “special” to God than another is excluded. The people of Israel and the Church joined to Israel are His elect people, but God is no respecter of nations. At the same time, neither is He indifferent to, among other things beyond numbering, the political configurations that may hinder or serve His purposes.

    This quote raises some of the questions I feel most acutely in this immigration debate. Isaac, you seem to be saying (correct me if I’m wrong) that we shouldn’t care about the policies of this nation-state called America because the Bible speaks to a different people. I can’t agree with that though, for a couple reasons. First, like Neuhaus mentions I do think we are, to put it in Augustine’s terms, citizens of two cities, one heavenly and one earthly, or, to put it in Jeremiah’s terms, we are to seek the welfare of “Babylon.” Second, while America is certainly not the church, it is one of “powers” among many, and as such its policies and actions have good and bad effects on people. If the Latino disc jockeys of L.A. and the Catholic church hadn’t taken the stand they did against the Sensenbrenner bill and organized the march and protest the bill may well have passed and those illegaly living in our borders would have become felons and perhaps shipped back to their native countries.

    In short, I feel we still must say and do something about what our government says and does, either in protest or affirmation, because what it says and does effects people, lots of them. Moreover, if we accept that, then how we decide what to affirm and what to protest needs to be informed by something, and our church and its reading of Scripture seems one good place to look.

  • 4 isaac // Apr 11, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Eric, thanks for bringing Neuhaus into the mix. But that seemed to give Jason some amunition. I wish I could engage Neuhaus more fairly, but I just don’t have the time right now to read that piece. Suffice it to say, most of the time I think Neuhaus isn’t very helpful. And this is probably another case of the same.

    But I think I should clear things up with Jason. I did not say what he took me to say: “we shouldn’t care about the policies of this nation-state called America because the Bible speaks to a different people.” I take issue with the we shouldn’t care bit. What I tried to express was my underlying concern at the core of ‘Christian’ attempts to appropriate something like ‘an ethics of Scripture’. It seems to me that behind or beneath that discussion is an assumption that, as I said, “this political arrangement called the United States of America has a special role in God’s work and it should try to work toward that good plan.” That’s troubling for me. Like Neuhaus said (I’m not afraid to use him when it’s convenient), no nation is special for God (and I take it that what he means by “nation” is actually what is usually called a “state”—there are important genealogical differences). So, that’s my central concern. It’s that assumption that the United States has a reason for it’s existence, that God needs the US around in order to accomplish God’s plans, that the US must work for God’s justice and that’s the reason for it’s existence. And to all those assumptions I want to say, sure, God can use anything…even rocks can proclaim good news! But that does not mean that a State has a special role, or that God needs it around. Maybe God’s purposes might be better served by the dissolution of the Union, or the erasing of the borders, whatever.

    Back to this issue of “caring about policy.” Sure, that may be important sometimes. But I want to say that Jason’s reading of Augustine’s City of God misses some very important notes that may be more helpful for our situation than he realizes. First, Jason’s characterization of Augustine sounds more like Luther’s two kingdoms than anything in Augustine’s texts. Augustine actually thinks that the earthly political order is not capable of justice or even being truly political because it doesn’t have its loves rightly ordered. Justice and a truly political body is only possible where that community is ordering its loves through worship of the true God, the true King, the true Emperor. As Rowan Williams puts it, “Augustine is engaged in a redefinition of the public itself, designed to show that it is life outside the Christian community which fails to be truly public,
    authentically political.”
    All that goes to say that Neuhaus (and Jason?) can’t use Augustine so say something like “common grace” or “orders of creation” means we should respect the State as a legitimate political force of justice. Augustine teaches us that it’s more the case that the earthly political orders are only ever derivative political orders—they just as easily work for destruction as for justice… it depends on what day of the week.

    Buy Jeremiah seems to offer of a good vision: “seek the peace of the city.” Right on. I’m with Jason on that. But why not take him at his word—seek the peace of the city. It’s about local politics. Care about your neighbor, those who make your everyday life possible, those who clean your office, the people who don’t see because we’re too busy caring about the ‘big picture’ or ‘the well-being of the country,’ or something silly like that. I think it’s a mistake to eqaute Jeremiah’s call to care about the peace of the city with the well-being of the nation-state.

  • 5 Jason // Apr 11, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Amunition. Come on now, I’m a pacifist, what do I need amunition for? 😉

    Anyhow, Isaac, I understand your position better now—thanks for the clarifications. I’m in agreement that America isn’t needed by God and doesn’t necessarily hold any special status (I think that’s where Neuhaus would disagree). And your emphasis on the politics of the local city of your neighbor is a good reminder (I assume it would include something like joining in the marches led by the immigrants?).

    But I don’t think we need to juxtapose “policy” or “local politics.” I think it can and should be a both-and thing. Certainly there’s dangers in seeking change at the national/policy level (i.e. seeing the nation as the primary agent of change in the world, thinking that if it does what you push for it’s a “Christian state”, etc.) but that shouldn’t dissuade us from still seeking change. I think of Bono pushing nations to give 1% of their GDP to the AIDS crisis in Africa. There’s plenty of dangers in courting the powerful and the State and, as you talked about in a previous post, he should also be incorporating this commitment into how and where he lives, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t do it.

  • 6 Eric Lee // Apr 11, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    Hope I’m not butting in too much (hehe), but I would probably disagree with the “both/and” tactic with “policy” or “local politics.” If “policy” is specifically assumes the qualifier of “national” in national policy, then yeah, I would have to step back from that.

    My reservations with that (and maybe Isaac addressed this previously, I don’t know?) is that when you move from the local level to the national/federal level, discourse is done in all sorts of abstractions. Talking about how to treat people has to be so removed from bodies because you “have to treat everybody the same” (that phrase makes my pastor shudder!). Thing is, we actually don’t treat people the same, even as Christians. Yes, we have the same love of God and neighbor, but some require more attention and time and certain needs than others, so there is no real way to ‘treat’ everybody the same.

    It’s almost as if all relationships should (of course) assume the love of God, and then to put it in a crudely functional way to make a point, the relationship is somwhat ‘ad-hoc’—every relationship is like this, I think, to a point. My brother was diagnosed as a type I diabetic when he was 8 years old, so he requires a different kind of attention. I know him because I live together with him in my family, so I don’t have to come up with a general kind of ‘policy’ or ‘rule’ just in case my sister also turns out to be diabetic. Because I know him, and because my parents and sister know him, we know how to attend to his needs in love.

    But back to the city/nation thing: At the local level you’re interacting with real human beings, seeing them face-to-face, walking side-by-side with them, but at the national level it’s all about the ‘right’ or the ‘left’ and big abstract issues that are so complex that they can’t really be talked about in their particulars. And unforunately, this stance seeps into the local level so at times even then we can’t see past the ‘Liberal’ or ‘Conservative’ bumper sticker on our neighbor’s car because our minds still face towards the nation first, in a kind of ‘mediation’ to our neighbor.

    That is why cable talk shows where people just shout across the table at each other are so divisive, because the playing field is a pretty tainted one where nobody is really talking about persons in particular, but abstractions in general.

    Now, I’m not saying a complete un-involvement at the national level per se, but if one is going to do so, it should be distinctly as a Christian, which I think will probably get you in trouble—but it would be a good kind of ‘trouble’ 😉 I’m on board with Hauerwas’ stuff in general, but this is one place I really agree with his notion that he’s not calling for Christians to be un-engaged with structures and whatnot, but to be engaged as Christians.

    Now, whether or not that can actually happen at the table of Liberalism where the Christian voice is merely treated as just one voice among many, I don’t know. I don’t really know how to think about that. I’m not entirely sure just yet how to think about not watering down our Christian language for the sake of a Liberal secular discourse that will be accepted somehow by that table. When I think about that too much I get discouraged and just think that is why we need to work really hard first on being the Church.



  • 7 Eric Lee // Apr 11, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    P.S. For more on how we tend face the nation for a kind of mediation (or ‘contract’) with one’s neighbor, see William Cavanaugh’s essay on ‘The City’ in Radical Orthodoxy: a new theology. Probably the best essay in there.

  • 8 Lee // Apr 12, 2006 at 7:04 am

    Hey, good discussion.

    I’m generally sympathetic to Jason here in that I think some involvement with national policy is inevitable (at least so long as nation-states retain their current status – the present dominance of nation-states is obviously not a necessary feature of political life). No doubt national policy involves a lot of abstraction from the particulars of many situations, but that seems to me simply a function of human finitude. We can never know all the particulars of a given situation, and yet we still have to act. I mean, there’s going to be some immigration policy, or foreign policy or what have you whether we like it or not.

    Now, in terms of how Christians should approach that involvement, I’m not sure why we are entitled to expect more than “a place at the table.” I mean, so long as we share society with non-Christians (or, for that matter, Christians whose political views diverge from our own) isn’t the onus on all of us to put forth reasons for our preferred policies that others can examine?

  • 9 Jason // Apr 12, 2006 at 7:47 am

    Eric, thanks for putting out that explanation of why you have reticence when it comes to national policy. It makes sense and, in many ways, is compelling to me. The problem of treating everybody the same and pigeon-holing people based on abstract labels like Liberal or Conservative are both things I’ll have to mull over a while.

    Like Lee, though, I still feel it’s necessary to protest, vote, march, speak out, etc. about policies and laws at the national level. And, I admit, I don’t have a big theological undergirding that conviction other than the command to love my neighbor. In other words, if I think our nation’s view on capital punishment is wrong (I do) then I feel compelled to do something about abolishing it because it affects my “neighbor.” Or, in the case of this post, if an immigration bill is going to affect millions in an unjust way, many of who are literally my neighbors I feel compelled. Now, maybe you would say my involvement in these things should be at the local level (marches, local activism, etc.)? In that case we might be able to agree as I see those things as often the most useful and effective means of exercising political power.

  • 10 isaac // Apr 12, 2006 at 8:24 am

    And I agree that all this stuff is probably involved with “loving the neighbor”—marches, local activism, etc… Along these lines, I think my line of thought has to do with imagination. Who or what sets the horizon of possibility? How do you enact your convictions about capital punishment or immigration? Who or what will help you imagine ways of faithfulness to the neighbor? Those are the questions I hear when Eric Lee brings up the issue of looking to the nation-state for mediation. So, to my ear, this talk about making sure we are coming alongside others for some political cause as Christians has to do with what or who is allowed to set the limits of our imagination, of what we can and cannot do for the sake of the neighbor. That means that the church should be the place where we cultivate something like kingdom possibilities through waiting on the Holy Spirit.

    So, to be concrete about all this jazz… Jason, you say you care about abolishing capital punishment and unjust imigration laws, well, great. But who sets the terms for what constitutes being an agent for justice? If it’s this grand abstraction of the nation-state, then your possiblities include those so-called ‘political’ activities that fit within the established horizon of possiblity—stuff like voting for the person that is going to ‘represent’ your views, or voting for the piece of legislation when the time comes, or marching in the streets in solidarity with whoever, or writing letters or making phone calls to ‘representatives.’ All that may be fine and dandy—even ‘effective’ sometimes. But is that the limit of possiblity? Shouldn’t the church be the place where folks learn about new life, new possibilities, fresh movements of the Spirit, earth-shattering advents of the kingdom, and then show the world the impossible possibilities poured forth into the world through Christ’s Spirit? And all of this is our witness, it’s our evangelistic calling, since we are showing ourselves and the rest of the world what difference it makes to worship our Lord instead of all the others.

    So, is there anything unique about how we act ‘politically’ regarding these issues? Sure, all those political possibilites that the nation-state provides us might be useful. By all means, use the tools ‘they’ give you to demonstrate Christ’s love to the neighbor. But it seems like we should be able to do more, to reach beyond the horizon’s of those around us who are enslaved to the world, and the world’s political system.

    After this immigration issue falls of the radar screen, after the state kills another criminal, what are we going to do? Wait for another vote? Can’t we be more creative than that? Doesn’t the abundant life of the kingdom transgress the walls of the established systems of this world? Didn’t Jesus get killed for offering a new kingdom that might break open the political/religious orders of the kings and priests?

  • 11 Jason // Apr 12, 2006 at 10:20 am

    Word, Isaac, your latest comment really fills out and crystalizes this discussion for me. And your vision for what the Church is called to be is  inspiring (and convicting). Broadening the scope of what we can and should be doing as the Church. Framing political action in terms of embodying a new kingdom that opens up impossible possibilities through the power of the Spirit. Seeing things like voting or writing letters as acceptable, but minimal forms of political action (though realizing those may well be a sop thrown out by the government as you’ve argued before). All really good stuff.

    Now I just have to figure out what these “ways of reaching beyond the horizon” of possibilities are. I’ll admit I’m not really trained to think like that and it doesn’t seem like something our church talks about much. So, in the spirit of continuing the conversation, what do you all see as alternative ways that the Church can “minister to illegal aliens”?

  • 12 Eric Lee // Apr 12, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Crap, somehow, I just lost all the text to a good-sized reply. Oh well. We’ll try this again.

    To clarify, in regards to Christian involvement with the state, I don’t in any way expect more than “a place at the table.” This is definitely a place I recognize the finitude of that system as well as one’s involvement. Otherwise, to argue that I am expecting more would make me sound like a culture warrior or something, and that’s the last thing I want to be or sound like: everybody trying to argue that “their” articulation of the American ideal is a supreme is a waste of time. I did that for too long and I’m bored. I want to distance myself away from any kind of perception that I expect this at all.

    Maybe this is interesting, or maybe it’s not, but I also agree that “some involvement with national policy is inevitable.” Of course, I put huge qualifiers along with that as to what the shape of that actually looks like, but yeah, that’s why I’m not surprised to see Hauerwas (for instance) engaging with the IAF (see my previous point on this). All engagements will necessarily be ad hoc in their nature anyway, because the state as an entity is itself an abstraction, so all encounters will be with actual persons/bodies.

    I don’t disagree with marching, protests, etc. per se (sometimes I do depending on what exactly is going on), but I do want to question their ultimate effectiveness and make sure that if we participate in these activities, to sound like a broken record, we do so distinctly as Christians. Can we participate in marches distinctly as Christians? Perhaps. (I don’t really know what to think about voting anymore, so I’ll leave that to another time.) I do think that these things can flow out of a love of neighbor, but it is here where I really agree with Isaac as to pointing out the limits of our imaginations in this regard. So, are these activities enough, then? To sound theological, does love of neighbor find its telos in protesting?

    This is sadly where I think Sojourners ends up—in constant dialogue (not a monologue anymore as they’ll tell you! :)) with the state so much so that I never hear them talking about actually being an alternative body of people called the Church that embodies Christian practices. I’d rather not talk about mere ‘faith’ anymore. Still, to a degree, I’m sympathetic to their call to make the ‘Left’ stop putting a huge divide between their faith and their reason and to start talking like Christians again (those who are Christians, of course). I’m a huge critic of arguing for some sort of ‘neutral’ and purely rational language that is devoid of one’s convictions, because as it turns out, it’s a false neutrality anyway! (i.e. not neutral)

    So yes, I agree that these involvements are not enough, and I want to go so much farther than that so that we arrive at a place that shows how even in the end, it is the Church where we should be focusing our efforts because as Christians, we are first and foremost Christians. I don’t think we can baptize the state with our Christianity, nor can we baptize our “seat at the table” so that we expect more, but we can baptize people within such places by first embodying the peaceable community of the Church as it bears witness to the Kingdom of God by the Holy Spirit.

    That being said, Jason, I don’t really know how to answer your question by myself, but I can at least offer some practices that my local congregation already participates in that I hope are good witnesses. We open up our inclement weather shelter on nights we know it is going to rain or be super cold; we distribute bread around 4-5 times a week in the mornings; we also feed the hungry on Tuesdays nights—in all of this, we don’t ask to see a person’s citizenship card or whatever, because we don’t acknowledge Jew or Gentile, American or Mexican, but all as children of God.

    So maybe these ideas and practices don’t sound very crazy or “out there,” but I would pray that as we do them we do so in love and in witness to the Kingdom of God. I don’t know how to think about how that “works” with legislation so much, but I do know that it is something we do in the world—in the middle of the city, in fact. Also, I totally support people putting jugs of water out in the desert to make sure those crossing the borders don’t starve!

    This is kind of random, but … I don’t know anything about Michael Lerner except that he has a book out called The Left Hand of God, is often referred to as “the Jewish version of Jim Wallis,” and is the editor of Tikkun magazine, but it will be interesting to ask him how he thinks about all these issues. My friend Dr. Jamie Gates has invited him to PLNU to speak. If I can make it I’ll try to ask him about it and see what he thinks and find time to post on it.



  • 13 Nathan // Apr 24, 2006 at 8:10 am

    on the topic of American(ism) and reading the Old Testament through that paradigm, i recommend God’s New Israel, edited by Conrad Cherry.

    i think it is absolutely imperative that American Christ-followers separate the biblical narrative’s (i.e. The Israelites) application of law/commands/destiny from our own contemporary State. actually, i think such a separation would help the Body of Christ worldwide in immeasurable ways.

    and, i think that insofar as we can love our neighbor, we who follow Christ MUST seek creative ways to welcome, love, assist, etc. those who walk across any nation’s border looking for the promise of new life.

    grace and peace.