Thursday, April 27, 2006

LET'S TALK IMMIGRATION

It seems like everyone is talking about immigration these days. A couple of weeks ago, there was a 100,000 person march here in Phoenix in support of assimilating illegal immigrants into our culture and citizenship. I have just a few thoughts about the topic.

First, Immigrants built the United States. Most of those who made the greatest contribution to our nation and our culture came into the United States legally. I suppose the Native Americans (who really aren’t native either) living on this continent in the 14th and 15th Centuries could claim those first Europeans were “illegal aliens.” Other than that, it was Europeans who settled the United States both before and after it became a nation. It was those early settlers, particularly in the southern colonies, who purchased Africans to work the indigo and do unpleasant work as “permanently indentured servants.” By 1800 importing slaves was illegal but smugglers got some into the country nonetheless. Throughout the rest of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century, waves of immigrants came from Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy, and southeastern Europe. Many of those immigrants came into the United States with the idea they would make their fortune and return to their homeland. It took at least two generations before their children began abandoning their European languages and culture for that of their new homeland.

My point in this is two-fold. First, those who came into the country legally then and now make tremendous contributions to our culture, economy, and way of life. Second, we need to give immigrants time to assimilate.

Second, illegal immigration can eventually destroy an empire. In it’s hey day, the Roman Empire ruled from North Africa to the Danube River and from the Atlantic to the borders of the Persian Empire. Roman legions protected the borders, roads, sea lanes, and made travel and trade possible. By the third century AD, however, the Empire was unable to recruit sufficient citizen soldiers to maintain a level of force needed to sustain its mission. As a result, barbarians from the north began crossing into the Empire from the north. Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Vandals began making their homes on land given up by Romans who could no longer make it productive and profitable. Many of these “invaders” had better morals, better work habits, and a better worldview. By the way, most of them were Christians albeit a variety of Christendom not looked upon with favor. They were Arian Christians identified with a man named Arius who was judged as a heretic.

In time, some of these “illegal aliens” made their way into the Roman army. Adding to their numbers were other barbarian mercenaries hired to complement Roman citizen-soldiers so they could fulfill their mission.

Invasion of barbarian armies began in the late fourth century. Visigoths invaded in the east and were eventually put down by the Roman army under the leadership of a barbarian mercenary general named Stillicho. At the same time, however, Burgundians invaded the western portion of the empire. Stilicho’s forces were spread too thin to be able to handle both invasions. Honorius, the Roman emperor, accused Stillicho of duplicity and treason. Stilicho was eventually assassinated in a plot that served only to turn barbarian mercenaries against the empire. In AD 410, Alaric invaded the empire and sacked Rome. Many historians date the fall of Rome to the date of its sack in AD 410.

Here’s the thing! Most of those who slipped across the border into Rome and took up farming or other honest occupations weren’t the problem. They wanted a “slice of the Roman pie.” Life was better in the Roman Empire than it was in the cold northern climates from which they came. At the same time, in spite of their desire to partake of the empire’s benefits, they were a potentially volatile population. Their volatility reared itself in the face of “perceived Roman rejection and persecution” resulting in the empire’s destruction.

Now let’s bring this up to the present.

The founding fathers of this nation believed the new nation would be “a city on a hill.” Within a few years of the founding of this nation, many believed it was the “manifest destiny” of the United States, not to rule the world, but to spread its ideal of a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people” worldwide or a least on this continent. They believed millions would be drawn to this land because of its freedoms and its opportunities. Yet they believed there needed to be an orderly way for others to become part of the American Dream. The government adopted its immigration laws and policies to bring that to reality.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t problems. Unless first generation immigrants had sufficient money to move inland and take up farming, they ended up in the cities where they were looked down upon as poor, ignorant, and even more damning, Catholic. Workers looked down upon these poor people because they willingly worked for lower wages. Protestants looked upon them with suspicion because they were Catholic. Occasional outbreaks of violence accompanied the distrust and suspicion creating problems. In time and with a good measure of determination and hard work, these immigrants settled in, became successful, and were considered good Americans. In some cases, the adversity of war (The War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and so on) earned them a place. They learned English, became productive, and contributed much.

In recent years, we’ve gained much from immigrants from India, Vietnam, other Asian countries, and from Cuba and Hispanics who came here legally.

Today, however, we live in different times. We live in an era of cultural and moral relativism. One culture or way of life is seen as no better or worse than any other. To some extent, I suppose there is some validity to that. When I go to Asia, I don’t present myself as coming from a superior culture. I’ve learned to see some genuine values in the Christian culture of Myanmar (that culture practiced by Christians). But I can tell you this: Most of those who live in Myanmar yearn for the freedoms we enjoy, the rights we take for granted, and the standard of living that increases their life span, their well-being, and their opportunities for sharing the Gospel. If I were to go there permanently, I would expect to learn the Burmese language and that of the people I plan to serve. In this country, however, we have taken this idea to idiotic extremes. We no longer expect those coming into the country to learn English, adapt to American customs, and assimilate into the culture.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear. I do not care if you speak Vietnamese, Spanish, German, or Latvian at home. I do care that you are unwilling to learn the language of your new country so you can become a part of its multi-ethnic population. I do not care if you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Mardigras, Bastille Day, or May Day with your friends. I do care if you expect everyone else to do so. I don’t even care if you want to eat Lute Fisk, Blood Pudding, or Curried Mutton. I do care if you think everyone should do it. I don’t care if you are black, red, white, or brown as long as you are an American (I’d really like to say Christian here, but I believe in freedom of religion no matter how stupid other religions are).

As long as this nation permits illegal immigration to occur on our porous borders and we continue this silly multiculturalism, we are following in the same footsteps of the Roman Empire. Instead of those who would take over our farms, trash hauling, and landscaping businesses, though, we may wake up one morning to the news there is a mushroom cloud over one of our major cities. For you see, in our day there is a possibility that someone with a suitcase nuke could infiltrate our borders along with that Mexican worker who only wants a better way of life for his family. Not only that, but citizens will continue to experienced increased taxation as a nation of illegals continues to drain welfare and public assistance budgets.

Well, that’s my take on it. Immigrants enriched this nation, but let’s continue to “do it right.” Let’s protect our borders and, at the same time, welcome those who choose to make their home with us. Let’s learn from them and welcome the good things they bring us. Like the engineers and doctors from India, the mathematics whizzes from Asia, or even the baseball players from the Dominican Republic, let’s help them realize what it means to be an American.

Oh, by the way! Christians, let’s do all we can to help them discover the lordship of Christ while we’re at it. Do you realize that one of the greatest foreign mission fields in the world is right here at home?

1 comment:

James said...

I like your article. I think you are definitely right about one of the best places of discipleship is right here in the United States. There are so many non-believers that need to be reached. It seems that the point at which we have come in the illegal immigration debacle may be our own fault. Take a look at that perspective: http://jeffslade.blogspot.com/2006/04/land-of-entitlement-immigrant-protest.html

Keep up the good work!

James