Saturday, June 14, 2014
Geoffrey A. Hoffman: Dear David Brat: What do you think Jesus would have done about Immigration Reform?
Brat as a student of Christian theology should engage in the following thought experiment: Would Jesus find people blameworthy who had come to the U.S. to seek asylum? How about children? What if they fled violence they had experienced in their home countries? What if they had abusive relationships they were attempting to escape? What if they were assaulted by gangs, thugs, were raped, beaten, tortured?
Not everyone who attempts to enter the U.S. is blameless. Not everyone should be immunized from legal sanctions. But Brat does a disservice to religion, to politics, to immigration reform, when he misconstrues the program endorsed by Cantor as an "amnesty." It was not an amnesty program but instead a program to help people who were brought here as a children to begin the process toward legalization if they were able to meet a host of stringent requirements. Brat also misunderstands the larger immigration issue of helping those currently in the country who have shown a commitment to becoming good citizens.
The irony is that if Brat understood the issues he as a Christian might actually embrace some of the solutions proposed by immigration advocates. Cantor was far from an immigration advocate. Instead, he favored a limited pathway to legalization for children who came to the U.S. and otherwise met the requirements through education or military service. Cantor, like other republicans, also saw the need for an overhaul of the broken immigration system. Let’s consider the blameworthiness argument which Brat endorsed. According to the tea party line, which by the way is fundamentally at odds with Jesus' teachings, if someone has broken a law they can never seek redemption and make amends? The premise to Brat's argument is wrong.
The immigration reform proposal approved in Senate Bill 744 went beyond the Dream Act. Even that was not “amnesty” but instead a limited program which would make people already here unlawfully go to the “back of the line” if they met all the requirements. It had very difficult provisions for immigrants, such as the payment of fines, and back taxes. Status would not even be granted to anyone to become a lawful permanent resident unless all the others who were lawfully in process were legalized. The proposal required a background checks and barred people with significant criminal records. The current Senate proposal is far from perfect. Instead it was a reasonable compromise sought out and approved by bipartisan support, including a last-minute amendment which amount to a large-scale border controls.
Jesus, as Brat must remember from his days at the Princeton Theological Seminary, said "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14. Jesus had no patience for his own disciples preventing children from coming to Him. Would Jesus have turned away any child seeking solace and safety? Would he have deported a child to go back to a country he or she had never known and barely remembered? Would Jesus have torn apart parents from their children through a deportation that provides for a 10 20 or even permanent bar to returning to the United States?
How about Jesus also in Matthew when he says, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." Matthew 25:35. "I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to me." The righteous responded with a question because they had never fed or clothed Jesus or looked after him and visited him in prison. Jesus' response as reported in Matthew is telling: "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25:40.
Geoffrey A. Hoffman is the director of the University of Houston Law Center's Immigration Clinic and a clinical associate professor. All views expressed are his own.