Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Let My People Stay

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Let My People Stay

Article excerpt

Can Americans make room for the modern sojourners in their midst?

PITY THE POOR SOJOURNER. THE BIBLE DOES. Old Testament authors frequently worried over the treatment that travelers, visitors, refugees, and anybody else on the move received at the hands of the Israelites as they made their way through the original Promised Land.

The biblical injunction to care for the sojourner doesn't get much plainer than Deuteronomy 10: "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords ... He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 10:17-19).

Why such concern? Maybe biblical writers understood, as the church does today, that few people are as exquisitely vulnerable as the stranger in a new land. The promised land in our times remains the economic powerhouse of the United States, which each year draws thousands, legally or otherwise, to its shores. They come seeking political freedom, a refuge from social turmoil or physical threats, or just the possibility of a future beyond the thrall of abject poverty. These days they might do better to come seeking lawyers.

America, a land built by immigrants and defended with their blood, has maintained a complex and at times contradictory attitude toward immigration. Often as each wave of immigrants exhausted itself through achievement and assimilation, it has turned a colder eye onto the next group of tired and poor and tempest-tossed who have tried to reach these shores.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, another Orwellian "reform" produced by Congress in 1996, has made life exceedingly difficult for many of the sojourners among us. Critics worry that expedited deportations allowed under the law mean that many with legitimate asylum claims are being hurried not to safety but back to the political or social lion's den they escaped.

But perhaps the class of sojourner most ill-treated by the law has been people who arrive without proper documentation. In the past, such immigrants would have been freed pending a review of their asylum claim by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. …

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