by Melodie Davis
for release July 14, 2000
Seeking Common Ground on Immigration
Charity was a volunteer worker for a thriving food pantry. A somewhat idealistic young woman, sometimes she disagreed with the rules of the program, such as making people wait in line in order to limit the number of people in the main distribution room, and the rigid limits on the amount of food people could get. This is a composite story, with the place and situation changed to protect identities.
One day when there were a limited number of workers on hand, the volunteers allowed the clients to all pour in at the same time. The clients raided the boxes of food; angry words flew. Not everyone took more than they were supposed to, but those who didn't expressed anger towards those who did.
Charity saw in a new way why there had to be rules and regulations: if no guidelines were followed, the food pantry program would be destroyed. There wouldn't be enough food to go around. People would be frustrated. Anger could escalate to violence.
This is an example of why countries need immigration laws. If borders were completely open and a "desirable" country were flooded with people wanting to live and work there, the very desirableness of that country would be at risk. Chaos, instability, and violence could result. There has to be time to absorb and assimilate newcomers.
But I also believe very strongly in the long Judeo-Christian tradition and teaching that we are called to "welcome the alien and stranger." We are called to be hospitable. Our parents, grandparents or great great grandparents were probably at one time newcomers to this land. The newcomers soon pay taxes and contribute to the overall economy. Often the newcomers are willing to do jobs that few are willing to do-in the meat processing plants and hot tomato fields or apple orchards. Our lives are enriched by the wonderful foods, customs and culture newcomers bring with them.
An article in our paper talked about teaching Spanish to police officers so they would be better equipped to deal with cross cultural situations. A letter to the editor complained about using "tax payer money" for this purpose. What kind of head-in-the-sand attitude is this? That if we pretend the issue doesn't exist, maybe it will go away? Police officers are already exposed to so much potential danger. Conflict/violent situations are especially filled with potential for miscommunication. Why not try to make sure officers have the best equipment (including language skills)?
Of course newcomers will want to learn the language of their adopted land to truly thrive. But that takes time and sometimes money.
A related aspect of assimilating immigrants is what to do about welcoming newcomers into church services. I assumed that most would prefer to worship in their native language, just because with something so intimate and personal as faith, you want to feel at home with the language. So I thought that wise churches made accommodations for interpretation or services in other languages-not insisting that newcomers worship in a new strange language.
Then I heard a number of second and third generation immigrants talk about their own desires for church services. They said that the older generation of immigrants (grandparents), want to worship in their native language. But parents of children and teenagers were realizing that if they wanted to keep their children in the church, these children, who were thriving in the language of their adopted country, would want to worship in English.
Immigration is part of life on this planet. Unless you restrict the freedom of people, there will always be the movement of peoples from a difficult setting to one that is perceived by some as "better" or with more opportunities. With that, a certain amount of conflict is probably inevitable.
There do need to be regulations so that the flow of immigrants doesn't overwhelm the systems which absorb the newcomers. As we try to relate peacefully to the complicated and conflicted situations that sometimes arise when you have several groups of people living in proximity, we would do well to follow the advice from the ancient book of Leviticus, "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. ... The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were [once] aliens . . ." Leviticus 19:33-34
For more on immigration, see www.thirdway.com/btnb/btnbintr.shtml or write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 740 words; end material = 105 words
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