Jesus: Anchor Baby, Illegal Immigrant

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

We seem to white wash our own stories-if we read the text closely, we will read that Jesus, too, was an illegal immigrant and an anchor baby.  This cartoon highlights this truth in profound ways.

We would prefer to coo and ah at the pristine baby Jesus found in Christmas pageants.  Here he is chubby with rosy cheeks.  Here he is cute with smiles and giggles.  Our manger is with fresh clean hay.  The animals are robust and clean.   Mary the new mother is pristine in blue and looks like she has just arrived from the beauty parlor and not like she has spent unknown amount of hours in labor, hair matted with sweat.  We do not witness the screams and profanity that uttered from her lips as she labored.  And Joseph, the proud father, not the humiliated man who has just watched his bride to be give birth to some other man’s child.   Yes, Mary is an unwed teenage mother, another shameful truth we dismiss all too gladly from this story.

But here are the other truths of the story that in today’s political climate we would rather not see.  Joseph and Mary are residents in a foreign land.  In order to be in compliance with a census, they must travel back to the land of their ancestors.  It is not their home land.  If it were, then the story would have told of relatives or friends that had no room for them and not the inns.  A more profound story would have been for relatives and friends to reject the coming of the Christ child.   How often is it our own families that reject who we are or who we have become?

But in order for Jesus to be the promised savior he must be born in another country to fulfill the prophecy. “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” [Matthew 2:6] Jesus is an anchor baby, born in Bethlehem in order to claim the rights and privileges of being the son of David.

Shortly after his birth, we read that King Herod orders the killing of the innocent, all children under the age of two. So Jesus and his parents become fugitives under the law and flee once again this time to Egypt. Jesus is now an illegal immigrant with a criminal record. The crime is sedition, being born a king when there was already a king in the land. The intent of overthrowing a kingdom is a felony crime.

When Herod is dead. Jesus’ parents return to their own country, not to Bethlehem where Jesus is a legal resident but to Nazareth. Where Jesus grows up as an illegal alien where he takes the job of carpenter away from other Nazarenes. Jesus does this and yet we accuse undocumented workers of doing something immoral? We admire Jesus, the carpenter, but we disdain the undocumented construction worker?

If this story were to happen in Arizona, Sheriff Arpaio would seek to arrest Joseph and Mary, throw them into Tent City, where Mary would have had her baby with little medical attention. Jesus would still be an anchor baby because the 14th amendment has not yet been repealed. Joseph and Mary would have been sent to a detainment facility to await ICE decision to deport them. Jesus as an American citizen would be sent to an orphanage. Or if the story unfolded a bit closer to the Biblical text, Joseph would have had a dream to flee back into the desert and cross back into Mexico with Mary and newborn Jesus. The trek across the Arizona desert is as treacherous and dangerous as the trek from Bethlehem to Egypt. They would have faced starvation, dehydration, and possible death only to find a wall blocking their way.

If Jesus truly brings good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, sight to the blind and to the oppressed freedom, then Jesus identifies with the struggles for justice that undocumented immigrants cry out to receive. The cry for justice began in their own country where American corporations colluded with the rich to destroy homeland economies forcing thousands upon thousands of the working poor out of jobs. It began in our own country when the School of Americas trained militias to return to their home countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia, and others to overthrow governments and set up even worse governments where citizens are killed for speaking truth to power. These injustices demand reparation by our United States Government. Ideally, we would close down the School of Americas. We would limit the influence that corporations have in other countries, and we would seek to assist the citizens to rebuild their home countries. But the least we can do is grant these refugees passage to our country and allow them to make a new way for themselves.

The least we can do is welcome them into our hearts as if they are indeed the Christ Child come to bring glad tidings and healing to the world. Blessings,

SB 1070: What’s all the Fuss About?

A friend of mine asked what the fuss was all about because the judge stayed several of the controversial pieces in SB 1070 so why were people still protesting in Phoenix, AZ?  The simple answer is a partial victory is not a victory.

There were still portions of the law that placed Latinos and other Arizona citizens at risk. One aspect of the law that was upheld was the ability to charge a driver of vehicle for human trafficking and to impound the vehicle.  This would include churches that go into neighborhoods to pick people up for church activities, should any of the individuals attending church through church provided transportation be undocumented then the driver is charged with human trafficking and the church van is impounded.

No Clergy Special!

In the foyer of the Maricopa Jail there was a sign that listed “No visits, No Money, Legal Visits Only” and then in pen was scrawled “No Clergy Special!” The church does not have any privilege here.  My point is that if you were thinking Sheriff Joe Arpaio would not go after the congregations transporting undocumented people  to attend church, think again.

Another aspect upheld prohibited the picking up of day laborers at day labor sites.  Thereby effectively limiting a source of possible income for unemployed people, regardless of status.  If the laborers could not get transportation to the labor sites then they cannot work.  In this economy, day labor can be the difference between having food and shelter and being homeless.

But the larger answer is that racial profiling was happening even when it wasn’t codified into the law.  I know, I know, the law specifically states racial profiling is not allowed in order to enforce this law, but the words are meaningless when contrasted with the actions performed.

I listened to the first hand stories of the people who have been harassed daily by police for the the minutest infraction, infractions that white people are rarely called into account.  A tail light was cracked. Driving 57 in a 55 mile zone.  The trailer hitch obscured a letter/ number of the car tag.  The car tag was crooked.  Being stopped once in a great while is one thing but when it becomes a daily or weekly occurrence, it is profiling.  These are the infractions that the people were concerned would become the “reasonable suspicion” for being asked to show their papers of citizenship.

We who are white would think being stopped by the police would be for something a bit more tangible, like driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone or driving under the influence, things that posed a safety risk to self and others.   So we (whites)  have a hard time understanding differentiating between a routine stop and what Latinos are experiencing.

Our Whiteness gives us privilege for minor infractions to be ignored or if we are stopped for these minor infractions we are given a warning, sometimes written/ sometimes verbal.  These folks are not given a written warning they are arrested and the stayed portions of SB 1070 means the questions of documentation can only be asked after the person is arrested on a charge.

This division became all the more evident when I heard the stories of those arrested in the actions on July 29th.   My Anglo colleagues were not once asked their country of origin.  My Latino colleagues were. One of my colleagues refused to answer the country of origin question and was then subjected to five separate interviews with ICE agents. She simply was not white enough to assume American status.  My Anglo colleagues when given a “psyche” evaluation were handed the questionnaire with all of the no answers circled as one big circle and asked if this was correct,”if so we are done here.”  My Latino and African American colleagues were asked each question individually, one question asked was “Do you ever wake up feeling despondent or depressed?”  In Arizona where you feel your ethnic community is being targeted, what is the correct response to this question?  White privilege was in full force operation.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio made a rare visit to see those arrested on July 29th.  He looked at the clergy arrested and went up to one of my colleagues who is fair skin with light ginger hair and asked, “And why are you here?”  The implication being he did not belong with these Latinos.  The sheriff made threatening gestures towards some of the local clergy arrested letting them know they will now be watched and possibly harassed by the county police. The fuss is that this man is a racist with an agenda to purify Arizona.

One of the Puente leaders arrested was arraigned in the wee hours but held for another four to five hours after arraigned for release, came out of the jail and then he and  his party waiting for him went to their cars which happened to now be parked at an expired meter.  Upon their entering the vehicle to leave, police cars surrounded the vehicle and were going to arrest him again for violating the conditions of his release by having a car parked at an expired meter. This is the sort of harassment that happens on a daily basis.

The message is clear, the county police are going to intimidate the Latino population and hopefully make it so hostile that they will indeed through “enforcement by attrition” reduce the  Latino and Native American population in the state.  I mention Native Americans because Native Americans are Mexicans, their heritage has been native to this part of the country for thousands of years.  Many are tri-lingual, speaking their native tongue, Spanish,  and English.

The fuss is that the State Legislature and Governors office (not the citizens of Arizona) have declared that it is a criminal offense to be in this country without papers.  The truth is being in this country without documentation is a federal civil violation and not a crime. The fuss is that the 14th amendment of the US Constitution states that only the Federal government can create immigration laws.  The fuss is that the Sheriff Joe Arpaio sees immigrants as less than human and treats them less than dogs.  When Sheriff Arpaio abducted Salvador Reza for no probable cause, he was held in a van for two hours with no air conditioning.  Arizona in July is already one of the hottest places in the country, being locked in a van for two hours in that kind of heat, knowing that heat inside cars can climb very fast to a killing heat is a form of torture. Senor Reza at that moment became a political prisoner.  The fuss is that this law only codifies the racist actions that Sheriff Joe Arpaio wants to hostilely inflict on the Latino and Native American communities.  The fuss is that the State Legislature and the Governor’s office wants to redefine the American Dream/American Values as only being for white America.

This is not what America is about.  We declared that all people are created equal with unalienable rights… we declared that we are a nation with justice and liberty for all.  We declared that this was a land of opportunity for all people…

The fuss is that one of the core values of the iconic republican,  President Reagan’s farewell address is being ignored:  “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still”

These are the American Values this country was founded on; equality for all people, justice for all people, liberty for all people.  There are no skin color tests, no brown paper bag tests that determine whether a person qualifies to live with these values.   These values are for all our people.

I join with my Colleague Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray is proclaiming “not one more person, not one more family torn apart.” Not in Arizona, Not in Mississippi, Not in Alabama.  Not in any town or state in this country where we proclaim as sacred the right to equality, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.