Here we go again!
Anyone who does not believe that “history repeats itself” has only to take a look at the unfortunate new law in Arizona.
Throughout American history, whenever there is tension and turmoil in society — economic distress, political rifts, war, distrust and confusion in culture — the immigrant unfailingly becomes the scapegoat.
It’s a supreme paradox in our American culture — where every person unless a Native American, is a descendent of immigrants — that we seem to harbor an ingrained fear of “the other,” which, in our history, is usually the foreigner (immigrant), the Jew, the Catholic, or the black. (cf. Religious Outsiders, by R. L. Moore, or Immigrants and Exiles, by K. Miller).
So we can chart periodic spasms of “anti-immigrant” fever in our nation’s history: the Nativists of the 1840’s, who led mobs to torch Irish homes and Catholic churches; the Know-Nothings of the 1850’s who wanted to deny the vote to everyone except white, Protestant, native-born, “pure” Americans; the American Protective Association of the 1880’s and 1890’s who were scared of the arrival of immigrants from Italy, Poland, and Germany; the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920’s who spewed hate against blacks, Jews, Catholics, and “forn-ers”; the “eugenics movement” of the 1920’s and 1930’s who worried that racial purity was being compromised by the immigrant and non-Anglo Saxon blood lines; and the Protestants and Other Americans United of the 1950’s who were apprehensive about Catholic immigrants and their grandkids upsetting the religious and cultural concord of America.
And, here we go again! Arizona is so scared, apparently, and so convinced that the #1 threat to society today is the immigrant that it has passed a mean-spirited bill of doubtful constitutionality that has as its intention the expulsion of the immigrant.
What history teaches us, of course, is that not only are such narrow-minded moves unfair and usually unconstitutional, but they are counterproductive and harmful.
Because the anti-immigrant strain in our American heritage, however strong, is not dominant. Thank God, there’s another sentiment in our national soul, and that’s one of welcome and embrace to the immigrant.
That’s the ethos we New Yorkers are most at home with, as we look out at the Statue of Liberty, whose torch of welcome has caused tears of joy in the eyes of millions of our grandparents as they arrive exhausted and nearly desperate, and as we today live next door to Latino, Haitian, Asian and mid-eastern neighbors.
That’s the ethos most especially a part of the Catholic — the word means everybody — culture, which has been a spiritual mother to immigrants to America, who were and are mostly Catholic, who have found a home in parishes and schools which helped get them moved-in and settled in America.
From even a purely business point of view, a warm welcome to immigrants is known to be good for the economy and beneficial for a society.
To welcome the immigrant, to work hard for their legalization and citizenship, to help them feel at home, to treat them as neighbors and allies in the greatest project of human rights and ethnic and religious harmony in history — the United States of America — flows from the bright, noble side of our American character.
To blame them, stalk them, outlaw them, harass them, and consider them outsiders is unbiblical, inhumane, and un-American.
Yes, every society has the duty to protect its borders and thoughtfully monitor its population. The call is to do this justly, sanely, and civilly.
My brother bishops in Arizona worry this is not the case there. They have been joined by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Jewish, other Christians, and various civic and human rights groups.
I’m on their side.
I want history to repeat itself — but the “Statue of Liberty side,” not the Nativist side.
P.S. I thought you might be interested in a presentation on immigration reform that will be given at Fordham University on Monday, May 3. Cardinal Mahony will speak on “Our Heritage & Our Future: Why Enacting Comprehensive Immigration Reform Is a Moral Imperative.” Click here to view details on his presentation.