A controversy has exploded near Cincinnati, Ohio, just across the river from where I live. Local authorities recently arrested Maribel Trujillo Diaz, an undocumented Mexican mother of four, and deported her this past week. She first came to the United States fifteen years ago, fleeing threats from a drug cartel. She has nothing to take with her to Mexico and nobody waiting there for her.
I might rattle my conservative friends here, but I’m tired of our national immigration debate. The nationalist/Alt-Right/Trump view of immigrants is perversely anti-life and a grave sin against God’s blueprint for a good society.
The oldest scriptures in the Bible reveal God’s gratuitous love for immigrants. Only recently freed from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were instructed by God to “love the alien as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34 NAB) and to leave some of their crops for resident immigrants to eat (19:10). God commanded that “aliens” (foreigners) receive equal treatment under the law as if they were natives (Exodus 12:49). God also admonished his chosen people to remember that they were once destitute immigrants in a foreign land (Deuteronomy 10:19), which he gave them as a gift they neither earned nor built (6:10-12). Abraham himself, the father of the Hebrews, dwelt in Egypt as an immigrant because of famine (Genesis 12:10).
The sheriff for Butler County, Ohio, Richard Jones, has said that fidelity to the law outweighs humanitarian concerns in Diaz’s case. I can think of one response to him; it was first preached two thousand years ago, and it’s called the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Answering a legal scholar, Jesus told the story of a man robbed, beaten, and left alongside the road to Jericho. Two religious officials, a priest and a Levite, pass the man on their way to the temple in Jerusalem, but don’t help him. Only a Samaritan man ministers to the victim and rents him a room where he can recover.
Some commentators like to say that the parable is about one man following the law and two others breaking it. But that’s not true. Both the clerics and the Samaritan are obeying the law—the clerics narrowly, the Samaritan wholly. The priest and Levite refuse to help the victim for fear of touching his wounds, which would spoil their purity for their duties at the temple (see Leviticus 15 as an example of teachings on the body and ritual cleanness). The Samaritan, however, acts with respect to the law’s superior priority, the preservation of human life (Genesis 9:5-6).
That’s why Sheriff Jones is wrong. Fidelity to the law for its own sake, to the point of destroying human life, violates the purpose of having laws. That purpose, justice, means the right treatment of all people in accord with their dignity. God has established justice as a standard which supersedes all manmade laws. Wherever and in whatever degree the law does not conform to justice, the law must change. Undocumented immigrants who have crossed our southern border should get a chance to redress their mistake through fines and probation, pay any taxes they owe, and live as equal citizens in a society that honors their contribution.
I have to admit my distaste when I hear so-called Christians calling for deportations of nonviolent, noncriminal people that could easily result in their ostracism, starvation, or murder in a dangerous country. If that TobyMac song playing on your radio and that Jesus fish on the back of your SUV don’t penetrate your heart in how you relate to other people, then what is the use of the Gospel? “What good is it…if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?” (James 2:14). But there will be justice for the oppressed, even if it has to wait for the new world which will arise from this one. And I suspect that many of our holy-rolling, demagogic politicians are in for a surprise when they reach the checkpoint at heaven’s border wall and find out that the king is a brown man who doesn’t speak English. A man named Jesús.
I'm pleased to announce that Jabberwock Review, the literary journal at Mississippi State University, has accepted my story "The Bloodhound" for publication in it summer issue. The story was also a finalist for the Nancy D. Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. "The Bloodhound" is about a priest who reluctantly becomes the chaplain of a small Catholic college in Appalachia, where an encounter with an abrasive beggar forces him to confront his conscience and reckon with the new job he's unwillingly assumed.
Anthony Otten has published stories in Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Wind, Still: The Journal, and others. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. He lives in Kentucky.
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