As Christians, we are exiles who follow an alien, undocumented, migrant Messiah. Shouldn’t we, then, have a more compassionate and unified voice in the immigration debate?
There’s a scene in the film Food, Inc. that reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of U.S. immigration policy: In Tar Heel, North Carolina, Hispanic workers at a Smithfield Foods packing plant are rounded up by ICE agents (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in a pre-dawn raid. A politician running for office would narrate such a scene by saying that these men and women, while perhaps hard workers, are in the U.S. illegally and if the rule of law is going to mean anything in this country, they must be picked up and sent to a detention center where the legal process can run its course.
But the film tells the true story: After NAFTA caused cheap American corn to flood Mexican markets, putting even prosperous Mexican corn farmers out of business, many fled to the U.S., desperate for work to support their families. Many others were actively recruited by corporations like Smithfield to work dangerous jobs in American factories. Government raids, like the one depicted in the movie, are carried out in collusion with the senior management of companies like Smithfield to “send a message” (to Americans, to the undocumented) while never really interfering with the company’s production line or, more importantly, its bottom line.
The dominant narrative — the one about illegality, rule of law, blah, blah, blah — is persuasive because it provokes and exploits the one emotion that has driven American politics since 9/11: fear. We’re told by critics and commentators that Americans have never been so angry, that our public discourse has never been this strident and dangerously uncivil — all the red-faced name-calling, the ugly race-baiting, the shrill, snarky meanness.
But much of the anger — at least the real anger, not the feigned rage of opportunistic politicians — is symptomatic of Americans’ deep-seated xenophobia. This fear has been carefully cultivated since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was crucial in rallying the country to support two insupportable wars. As a political strategy it was brilliant; it worked so well that now many Americans fear their own duly-elected president. They hate him too, of course, and they’re mad as hell at him, but all that hate and rage start with an irrational anger that continues to be stoked shamelessly by that most misnamed of all political groups in a purportedly civil society: the Tea Party.
The anti-immigration bill signed into law recently in Arizona is an unsurprising outcome of this ongoing collective fear of outsiders. When I heard the news, I was reminded of a book published last year, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate. Authors Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang deftly link legislation, work visas, border patrols, ICE raids, and green cards to the Hebrew scriptures’ insistence that “Israel’s very identity was tied to how they treated the foreign born” and to the truth that the New Testament’s “most notable refugee was Jesus himself.”
In a review of the book I noted that Soerens and Hwang challenge any reader who claims to follow Jesus to consider immigration through Scripture’s insistence that we see ourselves as a people in exile: sojourners in a foreign land who live not by claiming “our rights” over and against so-called outsiders, but solely by the mercy and grace of a generous, hospitable God.
We are exiles who follow an alien, undocumented, migrant Messiah. As Edgardo Colón-Emeric notes (in the sermon linked above), “Jesus did not have a valid birth certificate. Mother’s name: Mary; Father’s name: unknown. In fact, Jesus had no papers in his name, no title deed, no rental contract. Nothing. ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.’ ”
A phrase formerly associated with interrogators of the Third Reich — “let me see your papers” — will now enter the lexicon of law enforcement in Arizona. Jesus — in the guise of the brown-skinned “other” — will be asked for documentation he doesn’t have. And unless his followers practice the kind of perfect love that casts out all phobos (1 John 4:18), fear, on both sides of these encounters, will have won the day.
One Latino pastor’s open letter to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona before the passage of the state’s strict new immigration law.
The following open letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, by New York pastor Gabriel Salguero, appeared at Sojourner’s God’s Politics blog prior to the passage of Arizona’s controversial new immigration law. Needless to say, Gov. Brewer was not persuaded by the letter. But Rev. Salguero’s points are still helpful to consider as the debate over immigration reform intensifies in our nation. — Editor
Esteemed Governor Brewer:
My wife and I are both Evangelical pastors who have unrelenting commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our parents are ministers and from an early age we were taught that a fundamental tenet of the Gospel is to love your neighbor and be hospitable to the stranger. It is with this commitment in mind that I write to you asking you to veto SB 1070.
The bill navigates dangerously close to an enforcement policy which lends itself to the very dangerous and undemocratic practice of racial profiling. In this country we have not required or insisted on people carrying documentation to prove their citizenship. If this law passes I run the danger of being arrested or detained for DRIVING WHILE BROWN in Arizona. This is not in keeping with the highest and most noble of U.S. ideals. If this law were enacted, my 90-year-old grandfather who is a World War II veteran could be detained without cause. Worse still, clergy and all people of good will who are called to serve all people regardless of race, gender, or birth origin would be exposed to being arrested and detained for following their call as servants of God. As Christians we cannot refuse to serve and love the immigrant, legal or not. The Gospel requires more of us.
What seems to me most troubling about SB 1070 is that it threatens to divide children from their parents and underline enforcement without providing any real common-sense and workable solutions to immigration challenges. Governor, by vetoing SB 1070 you have the opportunity to show real courage and leadership in a way that history will judge with honorable distinction.
Enforcement without comprehensive immigration reform is not the way forward. Comprehensive immigration reform is the way forward in ways that Arizona and the rest of the country win. Some time ago I blogged on The Washington Post website about why comprehensive immigration reform is what is best for this country. I send you some of my thoughts from that blog here, praying that it will influence you to do the wise and humane thing and veto SB 1070. Perhaps your veto will once again spark the conscience of this country to remember that the truest test of America’s character is how it treats the stranger, widow, and orphan.
• The economic question: They are a burden on our tax and economic system; why don’t they go home? Studies show that the close to 12 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom already pay taxes and Social Security, want to continue to contribute to the system. Comprehensive immigration reform should require these immigrants to pay back taxes, learn English, and wait in line behind the people who entered legally. The system as is does not allow for this integration nor does it address unscrupulous employers who exploit cheap labor. A new system that requires these immigrants to integrate and employers and employees to pay taxes will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. The status quo does not in any way address this challenge; reform does. Reform can help the economy. The U.S. can and should have the creative genius to make this a win-win for all.
• The moral question: How do we balance respect for the rule of law and compassion for all people? This is a fair question. I think we should respect the law and that’s why any reform should include requiring the following: paying back-taxes, penalties to employers who may have circumvented the system, and borders being controlled and supervised in humane ways. Nevertheless, what do we do with the 12 million men, women, and children that are already here? Deportation is not reasonable and it remains beyond our economic capacities. In short, reform must include both respect for the rule of law and a way that integrates all people in common sense ways. Enforcement only is both a drain on our local law enforcement and economy and does not in any competent way address the issue of the millions of people here. THE LAW IS BROKEN. LET’S FIX IT.
• The faith question: What does the Church or my faith have to do with it? Simply stated, as a Christian I am mandated to love my neighbor as myself without prejudice to origin, color, or creed. Jesus himself reminds Christians to “welcome the stranger” in Matthew 25. In addition, the Torah of the Hebrew scriptures reminds us continually to be kind and merciful to the stranger, widow, and orphan. In the end a nation is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable among them. My faith compels me to speak for and with the immigrants and their families. Love thy neighbor does not have a border limitation.
Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to the highest of our values. If Christ welcomed me unconditionally, should I do any less with others?
Sonia Sotomayor appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her first day of hearings on July 13, 2009. (Photo: U.S. Senate images.)
It’s funny when you have a democratic system that for the greater part of 200 years really wasn’t very inclusive and established an environment where all the folks with any real clout pretty much thought alike, or at least looked alike.
For example, there was a documentary done in 2004 on a black congresswoman from New York named Shirley Chisholm. The film was called Unbought and Unbossed. In it people commented on the surprising notion of Congresswoman Chisholm running for President of the United States in 1972. One person, a white mid-20s woman, thought Chisholm was pretty bold to be running for the White House and observed that she had a lot of nerve to do it. In other words, “Is she crazy? That would never happen in this country!”
My, how times have changed.
Now that many of our longstanding American institutions are being challenged to become as diverse as America itself, and now that more and more of how America really looks as a nation is being weighed and measured throughout our culture, it seems to me that the majority culture’s routine lack of experience with people of different ethnic backgrounds is now coming into play based simply on the census of what our country looks like. We saw it with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and we’re seeing it again with the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
The country has never experienced in its history this type of diversity being expressed in all areas of American life. So, the process that is currently taking place to confirm the first Hispanic woman as a Supreme Court Justice of the United States is fascinating to observe.
During the hearings this past week, some lawmakers didn’t know what to think. In their heart of hearts they just don’t know what to do because they’ve never been in this position of having to act on such a proposal of a Latina being a Supreme Court Justice. It is also true that a black president has nominated a Hispanic woman for the highest court in the land. And might I add this woman has opinions out of the courtroom, which are in question based on the Constitution, and that the law is blind, and that the scales of justice are equal.
However, one could cite case after case that proves, in reality, that this is not true and some laws in the past, Brown vs. Board of Education for instance, were not blind and not equal. So what makes up a strong United States? In my opinion it is when we recognize and embrace the great diversity of what America is, whom it represents, and what this amazing country embodies.
Sadly, based on the outbursts that took place on Day One of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, it’s clear that some people just don’t know what to do when someone that doesn’t look like them, who isn’t the “norm,” is nominated to the highest court in the land. What do we think of her statements? We’ve never heard statements like this. What do we think of her background when she’s clearly qualified but doesn’t hold some of the same views and experiences that we hold? That, in essence, is the fear. We can’t predict her.
Or, perhaps what we’re actually saying is that we’ve never before had anyone who was a slice of what America really is on this kind of prominent stage where we can really hear her opinion. I think it’s the latter, and that’s okay. This is new territory for our great country and I love it. I love the fact that the conversation will come up as the scales of justice are slowly being adjusted to be truly balanced.
It’s like that reality show The Biggest Loser. Both teams of overweight people are weighed and the goal is to lose more weight as a team than the other team. The players want to tip “the scale” to their favor. That’s how most people of color, if they spoke honestly, feel about the judicial system in this country. But oh, the times are a-changing.
That is not code for, “Boy, are we going to get you back.” Not in the least. It’s simply straight talk for, “It’s time that all of our bodies of government represented all the people of the United States of America. And by no means have we reached “the mountaintop” as a country because we have a black president. What it shows other non-whites in this country (about Sotomayor as well as the reason emotions were so high with the election of our first black president, who called himself a “mutt”) is that finally, finally, things seem fair and equal. Obama actually ran, people actually listened, people really participated, there wasn’t a 35 percent apathy rate where that percentage of voters didn’t participate, which we know decided elections in the past. People were engaged. It was awesome, and I felt more connected than ever in the history of my 50 years of life.
And now, a Latina is about to be confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice … Amazing!
I say to our lawmakers, Relax, she’s an American who has a set of opinions that probably aren’t like yours. Just listen, make comments, and vote as you will. We know that Sotomayor’s nomination is truly a measure of the possibilities of our country to act upon its best asset — our diversity, our differences, our varied backgrounds and experiences, and our creative power to hold together the United States of America.
If I were a senator, would I vote for her? Yes. Do I have reservations about some of her comments? I do. Would I be tough on her in questioning? I would. Am I happy that a Hispanic woman is even being considered? I am, and it does feel good. It’s a funny, tickled feeling that makes me smile and proud to be an American.
“The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you are eating, because if you knew you might not want to eat it ” — Food, Inc.
I recently headed out to a sold-out showing of the documentary Food, Inc. at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema here in Austin, Texas. Generally, getting dinner and drinks along with my movie is my favorite “night out” activity, but in watching a film which critically examines our industrial food system, it was a bit strange. Granted, all around me I heard orders for veggie burgers and the local organic veggie platter, and there wasn’t a high fructose corn syrup soda to be seen, but I was glad to have finished my (veggie) burger by the time the previews ended. Although I have sought to inform myself about the injustices in our modern food system, Food, Inc. presents the most comprehensive and disturbing summary of that system I have seen yet. It is a necessary film for basically anyone who eats food.
A film which took three years to make with a large part of its budget going to pay the legal fees defending itself against lawsuits from the industrial food companies, Food, Inc. takes a hard look at how corporations now control the production of our food, resulting in generally unhealthy, environmentally hazardous, and completely unsustainable food that in truth threatens the very well-being of our country.
From the animals that are confined in inhumane cages, left to stand in their own mire, fed unnatural diets and cocktails of drugs and hormones to the impoverished workers who are treated with the same disrespect, this system has sacrificed the respect and well-being of living creatures and people for the sake of profit. But Food Inc. doesn’t just stop with detailing those atrocities; it delves into the problems with government subsidies and the ways the fearmongering enforcement of genetically modified food copyrights are destroying the small farmer. People are being hurt by this industrial food system that dumps chemicals into our environment with reckless abandon and produces unnatural and unhealthy food for our consumption.
I appreciated though how Food, Inc. didn’t simply present the issues with industrial food as a clear cut, good vs. evil scenario. It acknowledged that poor workers have no choice but to take jobs on the factory farms, and that farmers have no choice but to give into the pressure to work with the huge industries. Those industries have so altered our nation’s laws, and have so many lawyers working for them, that any farmer who resists joining their ranks finds themselves out of work at best, and sued penniless for simply encouraging people to not buy the big company’s products. The farmers and workers are desperate for a better system where real freedom and healthy standards exist, but for now they have to work with what they’ve got.
Food, Inc. also explores why for the average working class family in America, buying healthy food isn’t an option, especially in many urban communites where the absence of full-service grocery retailers has created “food deserts.” And whether you’re urban, rural, or suburban, it is far cheaper to buy the cheeseburger from the drive-thru dollar menu than it is to buy fruit or vegetables. That is because everything in that cheeseburger comes from corn, which our government subsidizes so much that farmers can sell it below the cost of production. So the poor American eats the extremely unhealthy food because it is cheaper. But the rising epidemic of type 2 diabetes shows the hidden cost of that value meal.
The poor in our country — those with no health or job insurance — are getting sick at alarming rates due to the unhealthy, cheap food they eat. This is injustice of the highest extreme — but it’s all part of our industrial food system. It’s a complicated system that gives us unhealthy, unsustainable food that disrespects the earth, animals, and people all in the name of making the greatest profit for a handful of corporations. This is the story of the food we eat every day.
But in truth, I have a lot of friends who don’t want to know anything about their food. They shelter their kids from knowing the whole “circle of life” stuff, but also tell me point blank that they don’t want to know the story behind their food. In their mind, what they don’t know won’t hurt them. Unfortunately, as Food Inc. shows, that isn’t always the case.
I wasn’t expecting this film to be a tear-jerker, but hearing a mom talk about how her toddler son ate a hamburger and was dead in 12 days had me weeping. This mom was the typical middle-American Republican mom on vacation, but the hamburger they bought their son on the way home was tainted with E. coli 0157:H7, a deadly antibiotic resistant bacteria common in factory farmed cows. These cows, fed unnatural diets of corn, develop diseases (like E. coli) and are treated regularly with antibiotics, which leads to drug-resistant strains like this one. This mom has become the unlikely activist for food safety. The meat company who sent out the tainted meat knew it was tainted and didn’t issue a recall until two weeks after her son was dead. As she puts it, all she wants is an apology from the company and a guarantee that they are doing everything possible to prevent it from ever happening again. Instead, she finds the companies fighting for more lax food safety laws and herself under threat of a lawsuit under the “veggie libel” laws for discouraging people to buy meat products. Yeah, look up these laws — express fears about the safety of your food and you could be sued for causing these companies loss of revenue. So much for free speech, much less safe food. It’s hard to know the truth if you are not allowed to talk about it.
But for all the doom and gloom that Food, Inc. rightly covers, I was grateful that it didn’t end the story there. Instead of throwing up its arms and admitting defeat or even insisting that we all go join some intentional community/hippie commune immediately, Food, Inc. details the practical ways we can start changing the system from within. It profiles the organic dairy farmers who although they had boycotted Wal-Mart all their lives, were now selling their product to them. Some may call them sell-outs, and they are under no illusion that Wal-Mart jumped on the organic bandwagon out of the goodness of their hearts, but to get a store with a distribution as huge as Wal-Mart’s means significant amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics are kept from polluting our ecosystem. That’s a really big deal, and one of the main reason to buy organic. Working within the system, even if it is with Wal-Mart, makes progress happen faster and on a much larger scale.
The movie concludes with the reminder that we can each make a difference every time we go to the store. The point isn’t to abandon the food system, or stop buying food, but to simply demand healthier, sustainable food. We can choose to vote with our pocketbooks for the type of food we want to support. Do we want to support the food that oppresses animals, workers, and the environment or the food that does its best to care for all those things? We have that choice; we just have to be willing to make it.
Food, Inc. opens across the U.S. this summer. Check the Food, Inc.website to see if it is playing near you.