On Illegal Immigration: Two Views
reviews by M. Daniel Carroll R.
Two recent books on illegal immigration could not be more dissimilar. One is a prolonged diatribe on the dangers of what is perceived as the uncontrolled illegal influx of foreigners; the other places the dilemmas of immigration within a personal narrative to comprehend better those who face hardships in their quest for an alternative future in a foreign land.
The title of Bascio’s work—On the Immorality of Illegal Immigration: A Priest Poses an Alternative Christian View—is at once reflective of its content and, in this reviewer’s opinion, misleading. The key word is “immorality,” a term that appears repeatedly throughout the book. The tone is often combative and alarmist: “Groups that favor illegal immigration often invoke the Almighty and wrap themselves in the mantle of compassion as their justification for turning a blind eye to the terrible consequences to America of our porous borders.”
Bascio reviews the points that are brought to bear in the national debate against the entry and presence of undocumented immigrants in this country: the danger of Hispanic gangs; the negative impact on job availability and wages for American unskilled labor (especially among African Americans); the additional financial burdens on the education system and law enforcement; and the dangers to national security. All of these issues are important realities that need to be addressed, but it is unfortunate that he makes no attempt to communicate or engage contrary views in any meaningful way. The presentation is one-sided and sometimes shrill. Given the author’s wealth of experience in the Caribbean, both in the pastorate and in education, this limited perspective is a bit surprising.
More regrettable is the misleading nature of the subtitle. The book contains no theological discussion beyond the occasional comment that the author does not agree with the pro-immigrant stance of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The only biblical text cited (and only once) is Romans 13:1-2. The last chapter closes with a sampling of letters written to Bascio by Mexican women who express longing that their husbands return home.
The old adage “you can tell a book by its cover” proves true in this case. The cover of this work depicts the author in a US Air Force Veteran cap. “Keeping America Safe” would make a suitable subtitle to Brascio’s On the Immorality of Illegal Immigration.
Ben Daniel’s Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration offers a very different cover (faces of immigrants and a picture of the border fence) and focus. Frank Schaeffer, son of well-known conservative Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, contributes a passionate foreword in which he shares how his mind has changed on the topic of immigration and calls on the reader not to be swayed by nationalistic rhetoric. The author, a Presbyterian pastor (PCUSA) in Northern California, divides his 10 chapters into three sections, each of which ends with stimulating reflections and suggestions for action. The book’s conclusion is followed by a list of 10 study questions that probe political, socioeconomic, and religious beliefs and practices. The endnotes and index make this a helpful reference source. Daniel writes: “My desire for this book, then, is not so much that it will inspire charity or political activism (though I do not wish to discourage either), but that readers will recognize in undocumented immigrants the potential for long-lasting, life-giving friendship.”
Part one looks for guidance to the broad Christian tradition, from the opening stories about Father Toribio Romo González, patron of migrants and pilgrims, to a brief look at the biblical material and church history (including Calvin’s Geneva!). This is an ecumenical exercise designed to reshape the religious imagination and to direct a stance on the complexities of immigration in a spiritual and more humane direction. In these chapters and every subsequent one, Daniel weaves in his personal experiences and describes how they shaped both his mind and heart.
This is a book largely about people who live in the chaos surrounding border realities. Part two focuses on the efforts of a congresswoman seeking legislation reform and the compassion of a federal judge in Las Cruces, N.Mex., who tries to handle his courtroom and caseload with Christian sensibility. Part three deals with several concrete dimensions of immigrant life: ministries of solidarity and aid for distressed travelers on both sides of the border, the provision of water in the desert, the new sanctuary movement, and education initiatives to empower immigrants. What make these discussions compelling are the personal accounts that illustrate the breadth and depth of the problems and the urgency of concrete solutions.
This is an immigration discussion from an explicitly Christian stance as it should be–with a human face. My recommendation? Be aware of Brascio; read Daniel.
Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Brazos Press/2nd edition, 2014). He frequently speaks on a biblical framework for the immigration debate.