One of those Emails

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Just the other day, I received a fowarded email that just hit the wrong nerve. Perhaps you have seen it also? The original is in red and my response is below.

“Guest” workers explained:
Since hearing the plan for treating illegal immigrants as “guest” workers, I now have undergone a complete reversal in my understanding of the proper meaning of words. I stupidly used to believe that the definition of “guest” is one who is invited. Now I’m told this is no longer correct.

For instance, if a burglar breaks into my home, he really becomes a guest who is only looking for a better life. Because he broke in for that reason, I must accept the obligation to provide health care, education, transportation, and living quarters. I feel so much better now.

Guest – maybe not the best descriptor – but would one call a “mother-in-law” a guest? At least in our case, she still comes to visit, cleans the entire house while she is there, does a little laundry, cooks some food, and oversees any other work that needs to happen while she is present. She may or may not be considered a guest- but the fact reamins, she is related to you. (as are our neighbors to the South if we take Genesis seriously). Most of us are just immigrants of a different generation anyway, a previous one when our nation was a little more opened-armed toward people seeking refuge and a better life. I never knew Lady Liberty had a footnote after “give me your poor” that said “only if you are white, anglo-saxon, and arrogant enough to forget your own history.”

As for burglars? This analogy works well – as long as you have the burglar sleep in a closet that no one else in the house ever used; pay for upkeep (in taxes that could never be claimed); fix all the plumbing, broken fixtures,walls, floors, and high-end landscaping so that property value would increase – and all for little more than just the closet, some food, and an occasional day off every other month. Oh, and the resident “burgular” would also agree to build new homes up and down the street so your family, friends, and community neighbors could live in gated communities that thrive on cheap labor by sitting in their back yards, sipping margaritas, and complaining about the guests around them that are doing all the work.

Come to think of it – these workers are “invited” guests – at least to come in through the back door wearing white – we just don’t want them to come in through the front door because they might say they have rights, deserve higher pay, and actually warrent being treated as equals. I really do feel so much better now.

PS: For those looking for a different perspective on immigration that warrents some attention and reflection, read this op-ed piece by Douglas Massey


  1. >We can go in circles about the meaning of the term “guest”, but I think this context of immigration in was it was intended to mean “temporary”.That said, I think our nation still is welcomes immigrants. At work I’m surrounded by immigrants from India, and I also work with people from Japan, Yugoslavia, Russia, China, and I am myself a naturalized citizen originally from Denmark. The problem is not that immigrants aren’t welcome, but that they’re entering illegally, and in numbers that cannot possibly be managed effectively. I’ve heard estimates ranges from 11 to 20 million. In other words, we really don’t know how many are here. Immigrants of previous generations typically arrived legally, and they assimilated into our country by learning the language and adapting to the culture. At the rate that Hispanics are arriving, it has become all too easy for them to form their own isolated communities and avoid learning English.While I don’t doubt that there are still some racial and socio-economic tensions in our country, I don’t think the issue of illegal immigration fits neatly and exclusively under the umbrella of racial relations. We are a country of laws, and no one should not be exempt from the law on the basis of economic status or racial identity. And by the way, make no assumption that only whites can be racist.The fact that illegal immigrants provide services at low cost does not justify blatantly breaking our laws. By turning a blind eye, we are sending a message to all of America, as well as neighboring countries, that our laws are joke, and enforcement is unlikely. We are basically inviting more lawlessness.From an economic standpoint, what we save on products and services, we pay for in taxes and health insurance. I suspect the average Americans still do their own house chores, landscaping, and home maintenance (at least we do). Not all of the illegal immigrants are working consistently, and when they give birth to children in our hospitals, at our expense, those children become eligible for social services. If you don’t think illegal immigrants are receiving social services, ask any ESL teacher. They are required to tell their students, including illegal immigrants, where they can get free services as taxpayer expense. Our schools are overcrowding, and our property taxes are rising to cover the cost. Our prisons are also faced with a growing influx of illegal immigrants. I’ve heard it said that they pay taxes. I’m sure they pay local sales taxes, as well as payroll taxes if they’re using a fraudulent social security number, which is a felony, but that’s hardly enough to cover the cost of health care, education, and prison space. As someone who used to process the paper work for new employees at a sewing plant, I have witnessed how they avoid paying income taxes, even with a social security number. They simply claim about ten dependents (I’ve even seen a 17-year-old do this), and since they don’t actually file a return, they’ll never have to account for them. At the time I was too naive to realize that I was an involuntary accomplice to a crime.As far as I know, no one actually extended an invitation, other than their relatives who reside here illegally. When employers hire them, I suppose you could call that an implied agreement, but the employers don’t actually have the authority to override our immigration laws. I think a more fitting “guest” analogy would be that of a teen-age daughter (the employer) sneaking her boyfriend (the illegal immigrant) through her window. She welcomed him in because they have an interest in each other, but they have both defied the household, and if caught, his chance of being welcomed into the household by the rest of the family in the future is slim.From a spiritual perspective, I think our government could have acted faster to enable poor immigrants to enter our country and seize the economic opportunities legally. However, the Bible also speaks to lawfulness and truthfulness. Sneaking across our border and falsifying identification documents, in other words, deception, is not an offense to be taken lightly.

  2. >Marianne,Thanks for your serious reflection on this important issue. My original post was something of a caricature, as you might have guessed – but it did express my frustation with the way this issue is often framed.Part of the problem is that we (as a nation) seem to speak out of both sides of our mouth. If there was no demand for cheap labor, there would likely be no illegal immigration problem – yet we continue to try to build bigger walls rather than address the root of the problem – which would also have to include addressing a less than ideal relationship with Mexico.In terms of the Church, however, I think our mandate is clear – we are to welcome the alien and stranger among us regardless of their status.Peace,Kevin

  3. >Kevin, I really appreciate your value of welcoming “alien and stranger among us regardless of their status”. On some level, I believe it includes all of us who at times feel alien and estranged.With regard to immigration, I notice how easy it is for the “powers that be” to be willing to marginalize and criminalize poor and disenfranchised, rather than find and fund the creative and doable solutions to chronic problems such as immigration, hunger and poverty. Most people that cross the border do so for very understandable reasons – to find a livelihood to feed, clothe and house their families and provide a better life for themselves and their children.I also note how easy it is for the “powers that be” to overlook or minimize illegality in high places – corporate abuses, bribery in congress, torture, etc. All of these are going on in the highest domains of power in our country and are being tolerated by the public at large. To me, this is what is truly undermining the rule of law in our country – along with our national sense of morality and compassion – the things that have traditionally made America great. In short, the issue is complex. But surely, our nation can find better and more creative solutions to these problems if we only put a priority on them. To do so, however, we’d have to put our compassion ahead of our drive for security – and that is very hard to do – for all of us, including myself. I believe that supporting that shift in values is the important role our churches and faith communities can play (and it is one of the reasons I am at RUMC). Paradoxically, I believe that setting these priorities right is the only way we can create any semblance,on earth, of the true security that only the Almighty can give.

  4. >Kevin and Kathy,I see we do have some common ground on this issue. Kevin, as for speaking out of both sides of the mouth, I want to point out that for the most part, we the consumers don’t know which companies are hiring illegal immigrants, so we have no way of knowing when we are supporting law-breaking employers. I think Kathy is right, that the problem starts with the Government. It has a long history of unwillingness to enforce existing immigration laws and implement legitimate means of entry for laborers. However, I am equally suspicious of both sides of the isle, as evidence of bribery has surfaced in both parties, and leaders of both parties stepped forward to protect themselves from the law. Businesses, no doubt, are getting a sweet deal as well, but at the expense of the tax payer. If existing employment laws were to be enforced, I think that would take care of most of the problems.While we, the Church, do want to welcome the stranger, we also have to deal realistically with the fact that some of these strangers are not friendly, and it is the primary responsibility of our Government to defend and protect our nation. Some of these aliens are violent criminals, including drug dealers, rapists, child molesters, and murders. Many otherwise non-violent individuals pose a danger by driving with no license, or a fraudulent license, and do not carry insurance. Some have been know to flee auto accidents. Do we seek justice only for the stranger? Can we disregard the needs of one group of people, our American citizens and legal immigrants, for the sake of the other, and still be effective proponents of cross-cultural communication? I think we have to respect the needs of both sides if we are to preach respect to either side.I think we also need to be consistent in our position, and not compartmentalize issues as though they were completely independent of each other. If we say that we should not worry about our own security, do we hold that position when health care costs rise well in excess of inflation, when schools are overcrowded and unmanageable, and when the wage-gap increases due to the growing availability of low-wage labor. Do we accept that as the cost of compassion, or do we blame it on drug companies, big business, and any other villain we can find in the name of social justice? When the economy shifts downward, as it inevitably will at some point, what do we do with the thousands, if not millions of low-wage laborers who have historically been the first to lose their jobs under those circumstances? Do they uproot their children, take them out of our schools, and return to their home of origin? I doubt that. These are serious issue that we can’t ignore. Being people of faith does not exempt us of the realities of the world or the economy.

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