I Was A Stranger…

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Resisting comprehensive immigration reform goes against our Judeo-Christian values, American ideals, and common sense. The United States’ current immigration laws are outdated, cumbersome,inadequate,unjust and in desperate need of reform.

A moral principle 

Leviticus 19: 33-34 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. 

God’s people have often been “strangers in a strange land”, Jesus himself was a refugee. Every nation has the right to protect their borders, to welcome strangers in on their own terms, but those terms should be framed by our basic beliefs of right and wrong, compassion and human dignity. 

Matthew 25:35: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.

Luke 12:48 For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: 

I truly believe the United States has been blessed in unparalleled ways: economically, politically and intellectually; in many ways it truly has become what John Winthrop envisioned speaking of a “a city on a hill” Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush all have used this metaphor. Surely, if we are to be a beacon of hope to the world, we must have an immigration system that meets the demands of the 21st century, coupled with the compassion of the ages. 

Our American ideals

The United States is not a place, it’s an idea—if not so, we would have never grown past our 13 colonies. The audacious, and to many, blasphemous belief that citizens could govern themselves was revolutionary to say the least. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I am not so naive that I don’t know and appreciate that those words where constrained by the bigotries of the 18th century. I also am not so cynical as to not be moved by them, to see their potential and the inspiration they have been to the world. How perfect was France’s centennial gift: “Liberty Enlightening the World.” How fitting the poem that accompanies her:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We have always, always been a nation of refugees, pilgrims and opportunists seeking a better life. To resist that is to turn our back on our history and our future. 

Common sense

We resist immigrants at our own peril. They have always played a crucial role in our labor force, our infrastructure, growth and productivity. We damage our own economic growth by not fixing our broken immigration system. Opposition to immigration is as old as the republic: Franklin was worried about too many Germans, Adams and the Alien and Sedition Act, the Chinese Exclusionary Act, hostility and violence to Irish and Italian immigration, etc., etc., etc. It always makes the same false claims of safety, jobs, language acquisition, cultural fears, religious worries, the drain on resources and infrastructure–all not new claims, all not true, (see below), yet here we go again. We can and should fix our broken system. We should no longer stand at the border with both a ‘Help Wanted’ and ‘No Trespassing’ sign. We can and should offer a path to citizenship now for those who have over stayed their legal entry and for those who entered illegally. They should be fined, just like we do for those who speed or pay their taxes late, or don’t have proper permits for business, etc. Those who are a threat to society should be removed. No serious person thinks we can or should forcibly remove twelve million individuals. No fair-minded compassionate person would want to. We can do the right thing just as President Reagan and Democrats did thirty years ago: It will require us to revisit our past, be honest with our present, and look to the future. 

Immigration myths debunked

A picture is worth 1,000 silent protests, just ask Frederick Douglass and the NFL.

Fredrick Douglass: Visual Evangelist

Frederick Douglass was the most photographed individual in the 19th century. By design! Douglass had the sense that this new technology would shape how people viewed the world.

“He considered photography the most democratic of arts, a crucial aid in the quest to end slavery and achieve civil rights. With Louis Daguerre’s invention of the form of photography known to us as the daguerreotype, ‘the humblest servant girl may now possess a picture of herself such as the wealth of kings could not purchase 50 years ago,’ Douglass said. Photography dignified the poorest of the poor; it was a potent equalizer.”

“Douglass’ portraits and words sent a message to the world that he had as much claim to citizenship, with the rights of equality before the law, as his white peers. This is why he always dressed up for the photographer, appearing ‘majestic in his wrath,’ as one admirer said of a portrait from 1852.”

“Among the 160 distinct Douglass poses, two continuities stand out. First, he almost never showed a smile — refuting the racist caricatures of blacks as happy slaves and servants. Second, he presented himself, in dress, pose and expression, as a dignified and respectable citizen. Douglass’ portrait gallery contributed to his persona as one of the nation’s preeminent ‘self-made men,’ the title of one of his signature speeches. Baltimore Sun

As I visited Boston’s African American Museum of History exhibit “Picturing Frederick Douglas” I was struck by Douglass’ s brilliant vision of how impactful photos would be in the abolitionist movement. He knew he could combine his powerful oratory and written works with the refined, stoic imagery of his portraits to help invoke a stronger emotional appeal for the movement. He becomes America’s first visual evangelist!

The timing of my visit was also serendipitous, coming just hours after Mr. Trump’s Alabama rally where he used insulting and vulgar language to demand the firing of today’s visual crusaders in the NFL.   These players, like Douglass, have used powerful imagery to raise awareness for their cause. When Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee last year during the national anthem, those images instantly created a national dialogue. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that his actions have caused a national discussion. His motives and methods have been both praised and reviled. As the New York Times put it in their very insightful piece about Colin Kaepernick:

“Almost immediately, many of the complex real-world issues of the times — police violence, presidential politics and the foment of racial clashes that continue to boil over in places like Charlottesville, VA — all flushed through the filter of Kaepernick’s gesture. Time magazine put him on the cover, kneeling next to the words, The Perilous Fight.”

Many have shown outrage and anger at the venue Kaepernick and other athletes have used–taking great offense that they would kneel instead of stand for the national anthem. Many feel it is disrespectful to veterans, others insist that sport is not the place for political protest. The national anthem at ball games has a long and complicated history, as does using sports as a venue to discuss the politics of the day.   

Whether you agree or disagree that institutional racism exists in the United States or that police brutality is a real threat to black communities, there is no debate that, like Douglass, these athletes are using visual images in powerful ways to reach a wider audience. In regards to how they choose to raise awareness: no one person, group or ideology has ownership of patriotism or its symbols. We use these symbols to inspire us to live up to our ideals. Some veterans are supportive of this quiet expression of protest. This is only one example of dozens of stories where veterans show support:

I am confident if Douglass were alive today he would give these athletes the same advice he gave young black men of his time:

“Less than a month before his death, when a young black man solicited his advice to an African American just starting out in the world, Douglass replied without hesitation: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”