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Immigration and the Law

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sister Fran Wilhelm is an Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph, Maple Mount, Kentucky.

What a plethora of opinions exploded at the time of the attempt in the U. S. Congress to fix our broken immigration system! I think we all had our own opinion, and some of these were much more educated than others that spilled from our emotions.

Many of us got completely entangled in the illegal issue. Our European roots have very successfully taught us the importance of obeying the letter of the law. For many of us, the right/wrong, black/white-ness of the law crowds out all other consideration.

There is another reality of life that is very worthy of consideration. That is the approach that often put Jesus at odds with the Pharisees as they shouted, “But they’ve broken the law!” Sometimes with a handful of wheat grains ready to pop into his mouth (gleaned on the Sabbath for his hungry apostles), Jesus reproached the Pharisees for being hypocritical.

Many of the cultures brought to America by immigrants have a circular approach toward time, toward the law, toward life itself. It’s hard for us with a European mentality to relax our straight-as-an-arrow attitude. Punctuality and obedience take precedence in our thinking. It’s hard for us to understand those who “skirt” around the law for a greater good.

Recently an ardent anti-immigrant admitted that, as he took time to look into the faces of the immigrants, he had to say that the majority did not appear to be criminals. And so, what is being done to these non-criminals? In many places they are being stopped for minor traffic violations, then, being found without drivers’ license and with false papers, they are charged with a felony and taken to an immigration jail for eventual deportation. This results in a break-up of a family, traumatized children, whose mother is beside herself with worthy and cannot function normally.

What will become of these traumatized children, if they never have counseling in order to temper the trauma? Isn’t this the breeding ground of terrorism, if a person has never been able to express anger in a healthy way? These traumatized individuals drastically need loving understanding and a safe environment for letting go of pent-up-rage. Could it not be that we are preparing our own destruction by this negativity toward immigrants?

With Martin Luther King, Jr., we need to awaken The Dream, in which people’s worth will be affirmed without regard to color or language or origin. We need to caress the God-given humanness in each other, lifting one another to reach our full potential.

In Scripture we learn that the letter of the law kills, but the spirit of the law of America is better expressed than in the quotation at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me. I life my lamp beside the golden door.”

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, March-April 2008.