Immigration: The Theology, The Facts

Immigration, part 2

The Theology

As people of faith we are called to hospitality for the foreigner among us. We have a long and deep theological grounding for this stand. It’s a grounding that goes back to roots of Judaism, from which Christianity sprung, from which Unitarian Universalism sprung. Exodus 22:21:
“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
It's a point the Hebrew Scriptures repeated for emphasis. Exodus 23:9:
“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
And repeated again. Leviticus 19:33:
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Many rabbis consider these texts among the most central in Judaism.

The theological grounding for the importance of this commandment is that the Jews are given to understand that the land isn’t theirs. The land is God’s – as God tells them in Leviticus 25:23:
“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.”
This was their way of making the point that there is no true ownership of land – the land and the trees and the water under it and flowing over it – belong to the earth, belong to all life, not to only me or you.

All of the Earth belongs to all of life. The spiritual is whatever lifts us out of “I, me, mine,” lifts us out of protective fear into a spacious perception of abundance -- lifts us out of any “we, us, ours” that doesn’t include all sentient beings. The spiritual is the part that recognizes that all of the Earth belongs to all of life. That’s what the Hebrew people were getting at.

We do have in our hearts a yearning to be a hospitable and welcoming people. Yet our national heart has closed against itself. We have jobs and opportunities that draw people from other countries, often countries that our government’s policies deliberately impoverished, yet provide no legal avenues for people to come to this country to work. That’s not right.

We allow companies to take vans to Mexico to recruit workers, and then criminalize those workers. That’s not right.

We criminalize and put in jail young people who were brought here as children, who had no criminal intent. People have been working here for decades, owning homes, building lives, raising families, and all of a sudden we deport them from their lives. That’s not right.

Let us be hospitable. Let us be welcoming of the stranger, for the Earth belongs to all life, and we, too, are but tenants. You’ve known what it was like to be in a situation that didn’t feel welcoming – you have been, in a manner of speaking, strangers in a metaphorical land of Egypt. You know the heart of the stranger. Then love the alien as yourself.

The Facts

David Brooks wrote a column last January where he started out saying,
“Every few years I try to write a column staking out a reasonable middle ground on immigration. After all, most big, important issues are clashes in which both sides have a piece of the truth.” (NY Times, 2018 Jan 29)
The restrictionist side, advocating restriction of immigration, must be partly right about something, he figured. Some part of what they say probably has some connection to reality. Perhaps the data will show that the record high levels of foreign-born Americans puts strain on national cohesion and raises distrust? Nope. Nada.

The actual evidence available for making a case to support restricting immigration, Brooks found,
“is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.”
For instance, take a drive through rural Appalachia, from Maine to Georgia, or across the Upper Midwest. Large swaths of these rural areas are 95 percent white native-born. Instead of being blessed by an absence of immigrants, these regions are
“marked by economic stagnation, social isolation, family breakdown and high opioid addiction.”
Moreover, the American identity has always been that we are a people of “industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity.” That’s the basis of our greatness as a people, we have a long history of telling ourselves.
“These days, immigrants show more of these virtues than the native-born.”
That’s because being an immigrant demands and nurtures these virtues – so back when the native-born did display more of them, it was because they were themselves within a generation of two of their immigrant ancestors.

Within the native population, new business formation is down, interstate mobility is down, job switching is down, and the chance of having spent the day without ever leaving the house is up. Our immigrants provide counterweight to all those trends. Immigrants start new businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. Compared to the native-born, our immigrants have much more traditional views on family structure, much lower rates of out-of-wedlock births, commit much less crime, and their 18-39-year-old males have half the probability of having been incarcerated. While about 50 percent of the native-born express confidence in the American dream, about 70 percent of immigrants do.

Robert Putnam’s often-cited 2007 study found that as neighborhoods become more diverse, trust between neighbors drops. But that’s a short-term effect. Sources citing Putnam’s study sometimes don’t mention that Putnam also found that
“over the long term Americans find new ways to boost social solidarity.”
So, Brooks says, his quest for a middle ground on immigration fails. The data just don’t support it.

What about that study last year that made a lot of headlines -- the study from the Center for Immigration Studies that showed that immigrant households use government assistance at a higher rate than native-born households? Brooks makes no mention of that! Ha!

It turns out that study wasn’t worth mentioning. Higher rates of government assistance use are found – only when there are no controls. Buried in the report and its appendix are the tables that show that when we control for race, worker status, education, and number of children, then typical immigrant uses fewer welfare dollars than the typical native-born.

The paradoxical sadness implicit in the data is that immigrants come here with a dream of a better life for their children. But their children – and children’s children – will be the native-born, with the same tendency to lose a bit of the verve and grit of their immigrant ancestors. Indeed, a 2008 study of Mexican immigrant families and descendants found that the “first generation and second generation make advances, but later generations experience stagnation and even some backsliding.” (Fred Bauer, National Review, 2018 Feb 2)

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This is part 2 of 3 of "Immigration"
See also
Part 1: Fifteen Years Ago, Out West
Part 3: Immigration, Hospitality, and the Foundation of Liberty

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