Friday, June 5, 2009

Welcome the Stranger

I've blogged before about immigration. It's a subject near and dear to my heart, as I am a first generation immigrant, and my parents are immigrants twice over (first to Australia and then to America.) My father and his family, especially, endured hatred and ostracism when they first arrived in Australia, similar to what Hispanics endure here in the US or what the Irish endured when first they arrived in the mid 1800's.

Maltese are lazy, good for nothing, Mary-worshiping thieves. Let them in your community and you'll soon see crime rise. It won't be safe. Hire a Maltese and they'll rob you blind, if they're smart enough to do the work, which most aren't. They have no manners. They take good jobs away from true Australians and pervert Australian culture with their backwards, old-European ways. They should just go back where they came from.

My dad kept his head up and his mind on his books for the most part. He graduated at the top of his class and received two degrees from the most prestigious university in his state, then went on to get his Master's. He works very hard and runs his business with integrity and compassion. If he has to fire someone, he finds them another job. He is proud of his Maltese heritage and has invested in businesses in Malta (which really I think he's done because it gives him an excuse to visit there several times a year!)

His is the face of an immigrant, a stranger. His story echoes the story of many others in his position, but it is uniquely his.

The greatest challenge in the immigration debate is to focus not on groups or ethnicities, but on the people who make up the crisis. We have to beware that we are not lumping individuals into categories and stripping them of their human dignity. And that applies to each and every person on all sides of the debate.

My bishop, God bless his wonderful soul, has recently written on this subject, with an emphasis on the biblical roots of the immigration discussion. He says in part:

We become what we do, for good or for evil. If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become. If we act with justice, intelligence, common sense and mercy, then we become something quite different. We become the people and the nation God intended us to be. Our country’s immigration crisis is a test of our humanity. Whether we pass it is entirely up to us.

There are several ways to approach the immigration issue in our nation. We can take an "us vs them" mentality, hold tight to that which we believe is rightfully ours, and demonize those who oppose us. We can go overboard with our pity, selectively appropriating our compassion to those who risk their lives to enter this country, and ignoring the needs of those who have always lived here. We can let our biases and wrong impressions cloud our judgment and affect our opinions. Or we can recognize our common humanity and work for programs which benefit Americans and immigrants both. These are people we're talking about when we talk about immigration. People like my father.

It is not a zero-sum game.

Photo credit.

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