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We have an immigration problem in our country and in our state. What should we do to solve it?
One of the first things that our politicians want to talk about is whose fault it is. It’s the fault of Democrats in the Senate for passing an Immigration Reform bill, one that just attracts more immigrants to our borders. It’s the fault of Republicans in the House, for not passing an Immigration Reform bill. It’s the fault of the Administration for not finding a solution that both houses of Congress would agree on. (Would both houses of Congress agree on what time it is?) It’s the fault of the immigrants, who come here to steal jobs from “real Americans.” It’s the fault of employers, who lure and exploit undocumented workers. By the way, South Carolina last month reached its lowest unemployment rate in 13 years.
It’s really not about whose fault it is. It’s about what we need to do about immigration and those immigrants, documented and otherwise, who are already here. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, there are over 12 million undocumented immigrants here, half of whom were “documented” when they arrived but whose documents expired. In comparison, the population of South Carolina is less than 5 million. Undocumented immigrants could fill South Carolina more than twice over. To most of them, our country is their actual home even if not their legal one. We see them every day, if we care enough to look.
What guidance do our religious traditions give us about strangers living among us? The New Testament is probably better known than the Old; the Torah tells us that if a stranger dwells in your land, let him be among you as one of the same country – and you should love him as yourselves, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Is that how we should think about Hispanics here in Edgefield County, documented and otherwise? The 2010 census gives the percentage of Hispanic members of our county at 5.6%; I suspect that percentage just counted those who were documented. But are they like “us”?
In immigration as in too many other things, our arguments tend to end up focusing on “us” and “them.” I suggest that we all do our best to drop that mindset. There is no “them,” there is only “us” – and we are individuals, not groups. Some of our families are new here and still learning the language, while others of our families have been here since some were slaves and others slave owners. There are even a few whose bloodlines include people who here already, and witnessed slaves and slave owners both arriving in South Carolina as strangers. But now regardless, we’re all just “us,” South Carolinians. And although we can’t be all things to all people, neither can we ignore our own immigrant roots and pretend that we’re somehow native to the soil. We’re not. Some of us are just newer than others, and some are still “strangers.”
So what should we do about immigration and immigrants, documented and otherwise? Work together. Help one another. Follow the laws of our nation and of our state that coincide with the laws of our conscience and of our ethics, and ensure that our lawmakers change any that don’t.
We are all South Carolinians, all Edgefieldians. Let us find a just solution that is in all our interest. Fui extranjero, y Me recibieron. I was a stranger, and you took me in.