One cannot dispute that Christianity plays a large role in the traditions and foundations of our United States. God was a central point in many of our colonial documents–the Pledge of Allegiance that we grew up reciting in school states, “One Nation Under God.” The Declaration of Independence clearly argues that:
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
The traditions upon which our Founding Fathers built our nation still inform the traditions of our country today and presidents are deeply affected by Christianity in their inauguration traditions. President H.W. Bush was sworn into office on George Washington’s bible from his inauguration in 1789. President Obama was sworn into office on President Lincoln’s and Dr. Martin Luther King’s Bibles. President Trump was sworn into office most recently while also placing a hand on the Lincoln Bible and while also using a personal Bible given to him by his mother. After the termination of the oath, the new President traditionally states, “So Help Me God,” as well.
We also have a foundation built on immigration–with the exception of our Native American citizens, people have come from countries all over the world to settle this land. Our Pilgrim ancestors came to Plymouth in 1621. They were a group of people who could not openly celebrate their religion under King James in England, and because of this, had moved to the Netherlands where religious freedom was a possibility. However, they did not want to lose their English identities and began to plan for a trip to a New World where they could found a community based on their own values and as English people.
When this group of religious pilgrims left the Netherlands, Plymouth was not their original goal. They were given permission from the London Virginia Company to settle the area near New York City in the New Netherlands; however, because of the time of year and unforgiving tides, they chose to stay near Cape Cod and pick Plymouth as their destination rather than risk heading further into the winter season without a settlement.
In and above the fact that they were settling on Native American land without permission from the Native Americans, the Pilgrims were even settling on land they had no right to settle in terms of their agreements with the powers that be in Europe. Our Protestant Christian country began with a small group of illegal immigrants.
Fast forward to the immigration concerns we have today. We hear a lot about people coming into our country illegally, some of whom have been coming in through an unsecured border with Mexico. We’ve also seen where our country is refusing to bring in refugees from Muslim countries, especially Syria, in recent months and weeks because of concerns about terrorism and religious extremism. It’s very interesting how short our memories are and how short our Christianity falls in light of these issues.
There were very few restrictions on immigration until the 20th century, except for restrictions against Chinese people in the late 19th century, which were found to be unconstitutional. There was not a ream of paperwork to fill out before venturing to the US nor were there large costs associated with the applications for citizenship. Today, it costs $725 for a person to apply to immigrate to the United States. If you multiply this by a family of four, this is $2900 to begin the process in and above the cost to physically move ones’ family to the United States. The website states that there is assistance available for low-income immigrants; however, it’s not clear how much of these costs are covered. American Immigration Center.
Some face not only financial issues, but in the case of refugees, have a time issue to consider. While some may have the luxury to wait for applications and background checks to clear in the case of routine immigration, others are literally digging loved ones out the rubble of their homes and do not have time or the paperwork required to follow this path. The path to become a refugee requires paperwork, applications, and meetings with officials–something that is not possible if one’s home and town are destroyed by militants with bombs. https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/refugees
People from Central and South America and also Muslim immigrants are the most recent targets of this anti-immigration sentiment (prior waves in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries targeted the Irish, the Chinese, Italians, and Polish people as just a few examples), and the rhetoric has crept into our presidential platforms and is starting to inform our foreign policy in the first few day so of Trump’s term. During the presidential debates, the term “bad hombre” became a catch phrase of Trump’s candidacy as well as the promise to build a wall between the US and Mexico. The instances of terrorism in the Middle East have made it popular with certain groups of Americans to want to lock down the flow of Syrian Refugees to our country as well.
Where is Christianity in all of this, the promise to love our neighbor as ourselves and to treat others as we would wish to be treated? Where are we in the words 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, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” I can’t think of a more tempest tossed group of people at the moment that those coming from Syria.
I am sure that there are people coming in from other countries who have done bad things and should be held accountable; however, is this enough of a reason to turn our back on the foundation of our country and our Christian principles and deny access to entire groups of people? Have we really lost more as a result of the flow of immigrants from these areas than we have received in terms of crime and job loss?
The answer is No. The American Immigration Council states the following facts about crime and immigration:
Higher Immigration is Associated with Lower Crime Rates
Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.
During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.
The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States
In regards to job loss or a perceived decrease in prosperity for native-born Americans, this is also not true. There is an uptick for first generation immigrants’ costs in terms of education of children, but in the second and third generations, these immigrant families serve to generate billions of dollars for our government. Job Impact of Immigration
At what cost are we abandoning our principles? It’s not because of a real, factual threat from immigrants. In fact, they’re more law-abiding that native-born citizens of the US and have a dramatic positive contribution to our country’s finances.
So what is it? It’s fear and the desire to look outward for a cause of issues that are perpetuated by citizens of our own country. We still have pay inequality between men and women. People of color are still marginalized. We treat corporations and the rich as more important than the populace. We have traditionally de-prioritized the environment and are headed down this path with more gusto than we’ve seen in decades. Can you imagine what we could do to invest in our country if we used the costs of a wall between the US and Mexico to update our roads, our schools, our water infrastructure, etc.? Instead, we’d rather invest in a policy of exclusion that may not even be feasible from an engineering perspective.
We should have secure borders and know who is coming in and out of our country; but, are we willing to abandon our principles to build a wall and exclusively block entire groups of people from our shores because of the phantom threats generated by a fear-mongering group of politicians? Let’s be careful and not forget our history. This declaration of a group of people as “other” and blaming this group of people for our issues is exactly how Hitler began his platform of hate.
We’re not there yet and people are much more fearful of this happening again, but the parallels are undeniable. We also cannot forget that our United States colonies in the northeast were started by a group of people looking for religious freedom who prioritized their survival over the law when they chose to settle in Plymouth rather than New Netherland.
Let’s be the country we aspired to be when we declared our independence from England and when France gifted us the Statue of Liberty: a proud nation that recognizes we’re stronger together and in drawing from the things that make us unique rather than a fearful one that pulls shut the gates in response to issues that should drive us to pull together and work harder as Americans in order to create a better country for everyone who lives here.