Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Strangers In Your Midst and the Fools Who Fear Them

An interesting year, no? The calendar has created a confluence of Passover, Easter and April Fool's Day, which pretty much covers everyone who lives...everywhere. Which is humbling because this weekend should remind us that we are only as big and smart and compassionate and humane as the weakest among us. The ones with the smallest voices, the vulnerable, the unloved. And that's why the words of the Seder concerning the stranger are incredibly prescient.

In short, they say, "You shall not oppress a stranger since you yourselves know the feeling of the stranger, for you were also strangers in the land of Egypt."

Pretty straightforward, I think. Treat all the people living in your land with respect, acceptance and love. The liturgy is full of these sentiments. And then some. But of course, we live in a land that has developed complicated feelings about the strangers who live here. We fear them and blame them for ills that are not supported by objective data. And then there's the president, who seems contradict himself over who should be able to stay in this country, and who gets himself in hot water over his language.

The real problem, though, is that people who call themselves religious, and a great number of those who don't, not only support the restrictionist policies of the president, they do so in direct violation of the religious values they so proudly promote. This creates a climate of fear that is dividing the country and is leading the government to sue states and cities that say they will harbor immigrants, both documented and undocumented, rather than submit to policies that break up families and sow fears in largely immigrant communities.

And adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census will only make things worse. If the purpose of the census is to get an accurate count of who's in this country, then why ask a question that will lead to a dramatic undercount of the population? After all, it's crystal clear that the reason behind the question is not benign. What the president ultimately wants is to prove his contention that he lost the popular vote count in 2016 because illegal immigrants rushed to the polls and voted against him. Secondarily, he wants to know who's a citizen so his administration can harass, deport and threaten both immigrants and the states in which they reside, most of which voted against him.

Talk about oppression. And fear.

We do need sensible immigration reform, but that does not include a wall or mass deportations or disruptions in the lives of people who have lived here productively. It does include compassion and respect, which seem to be in short supply in Washington.

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