You Were Told to Love the Immigrant, But What If the Story Never Happened? Hospitality and United States Immigration Law
Mousin, Craig B. (2016) "You Were Told to Love the Immigrant, But What if the Story Never Happened? Hospitality and United States Immigration Law," Vincentian Heritage Journal: Vol. 33: Iss. 1, Article 8
50 Pages Posted: 29 May 2016
Date Written: May 26, 2016
For over 200 years, part of our national narrative has included a story of hospitality towards the immigrant. Familiar with the biblical narrative of caring for the stranger, generations of Americans have welcomed immigrants and invited them to participate in developing our land. In claiming that our immigration system is broken, moreover, President Obama cited Scripture to not oppress the stranger when proposing to defer deportation of certain classes of undocumented persons. Yet the federal government simultaneously detained and deported unprecedented numbers of persons.
Relying upon Scripture to not oppress while detaining and deporting so many reflects how the national and biblical narratives have been challenged recently. The biblical narrative is also contested by post-Enlightenment critiques that reject a divine presence and the biblical concept of justice. A broken immigration system challenges the justice of the U.S. law. The European Union finds its commitment to member’s open borders and the very concept of the nation-state threatened by refugees. These crises suggest that the welcoming narrative may have lost its force. This article argues to the contrary, that both the welcoming and biblical narratives do and should continue to shape contemporary responses to immigrants and refugees.
This article proceeds in four parts. Part I maintains that both narratives retain cultural force. For many, the biblical narrative — a narrative specifically formed in exile — shapes faith and nurtures conceptions of justice and morality. That narrative, however, also played a crucial role in the founding of U.S. society and government, necessitating interpretation by all those interested in public policy.
Part II suggests that if current U.S. immigration law been in effect in the ancient biblical world, no such narrative would ever have occurred as every major biblical protagonist would have been excluded or deported out of the story. What does the U.S. lose today by implementing a law with little discretion or mercy?
Part III examines St. Vincent de Paul and his mission of hospitality. St. Vincent understood the biblical narrative to challenge the pretense of security based on physical walls and exclusion of the vulnerable and the refugee from society, emphasizing that people meet the divine through the poor and the stranger.
Part IV argues that the biblical narrative — and St. Vincent’s particular interpretation of it — call us to grant lawful status to most undocumented immigrants and challenge the detention and deportation of women and children. Current policies deny the immigrant’s dignity and a fair process while depriving the U.S. of the gift of the immigrant. When increased enforcement and detention has failed to make the nation feel more secure, why not seek security through the claim of the biblical narrative, instead of doubling-down on already failed enforcement policies? The article concludes that persons who derive their understanding of justice on the biblical narrative should seek to love the immigrant through reform of immigration law, while also suggesting alternatives to detention and deportation.
Keywords: immigration law, biblical narrative, hospitality, detention, deportation, St. Vincent de Paul
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