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Anti-immigrant sentiment is 'racism' declares Edgar

New York City, August 13, 2007 "Immigrants have become the contemporary scapegoat," writes the Rev. Bob Edgar. "It's time we call it for what it is racism."

The General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), writing in a guest commentary carried by the Religion News Service (RNS) yesterday, contends the "fearmongers among us are devilishly clever. They have used nearly every scare tactic they can think of to reduce us to a highly suspicious lot all too willing to not love the alien as ourselves and to evict them from their homes, get them fired, separate them from their families, in an all out rampage of oppression and prejudice."

In the commentary, which RNS entitled, "White Immigrants Get a Pass; Brown Ones Do Not," the Rev. Edgar points to conservative blogs and certain radio and television talk show hosts who are "trying to scare us."

The RNS commentary points to the numerous verses in the Bible about how to treat immigrants.

"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God," Edgar writes, quoting Leviticus 19:33-34. Similar verses appear in the books of Exodus, Numbers and the Prophet Jeremiah.

"Demagogues keep preying on post-9/11 fear to whip up hatred and suspicion of people who have come here in search of the same thing my northern European ancestors were seeking," writes Edgar. "They want a better life for their families, more opportunities for their children and to learn English. They already pay millions in taxes and contribute to their communities."

Edgar concludes his RNS commentary incorporating words of the Prophet Jeremiah who warned against oppressing the resident alien: "It seems before God will dwell with us in this land we had better change our ways and 'truly act justly one with another' regardless of where we were born or the color of our skin."

The RNS commentary is available to more than 100 major daily and weekly newspapers including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times and USA Today. In addition, hundreds of magazines, television stations, religious publications and websites subscribe to RNS.

The full text of Edgar's commentary:

     Let's talk about immigration. But first, here's a word from our sponsor, the God of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah.

    "When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34)

    That seems pretty clear. Don't you think?

    There are a half dozen similar verses in the Hebrew scriptures. But Americans who are so riled up over this immigration situation seem to ignore these words.

    While most respected public opinion polls show American citizens would be willing to allow the undocumented workers already here a path to citizenship, much of the media and political demagogues would have you believe otherwise.  Most national talk radio hosts, conservative blogs and CNN's Lou Dobbs are trying to scare us.

    These are the same folks who trot out the very same Bible to damn gay marriage and justify anti-gay legislation in several of our states.

    But when it comes to more biblical evidence about how we should treat those non-citizens living among us, they are curiously silent about the several verses that seem fairly direct in how God wants us to act toward these human beings.

   The fearmongers among us are devilishly clever. They have used nearly every scare tactic they can think of to reduce us to a highly suspicious lot all too willing to not love the alien as ourselves and to evict them from their homes, get them fired, separate them from their families, in an all out rampage of oppression and prejudice.

    Nearly everything we eat passes through the hands of an undocumented worker. Nearly every office and rest room in America's corporate towers are cleaned and sanitized by undocumented workers. Nearly every meat packing plant -- after breaking unions and cutting living wages for American citizens -- now employs many undocumented workers.

    Immigrants have become the contemporary scapegoat. Higher taxes, crowded schools, infectious diseases, all have been attributed to those who have come to America without the proper papers. It's time we call it for what it is -- racism.

    When you hear protests from vigilantes at rallies, notice that they point to those who wave the Mexican flag. Ever been to an Irish bar, or seen the flags at Columbus Day or St. Patrick's Day parades? White immigrants get a pass. Brown immigrants do not.

    Demagogues keep preying on post-9/11 fear to whip up hatred and suspicion of people who have come here in search of the same thing my northern European ancestors were seeking. They want a better life for their families, more opportunities for their children and to learn English. They already pay millions in taxes and contribute to their communities.

    Most of the attention has been placed on our southern border and on building a fence. Little attention has been paid to our northern border.

    Yet a foiled terrorist attack of someone trying to cross into our country happened in December 1999, on the Canadian border. An alert Customs officer arrested a man trying to cross into Washington state on his way to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Day 2000.

    The prophet Jeremiah is also very clear on the subject: "For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place ..."

    I wonder about those who say America is God's anointed land, a shining city on a hill, the nation blessed by God. It seems before God will dwell with us in this land we had better change our ways and "truly act justly one with another" regardless of where we were born or the color of our skin.

    (The Rev. Bob Edgar, a former member of Congress from Pennsylvania, is finishing his second four-year term as general secretary of the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical organization with 35 member denominations of Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. In September, he begins full-time work as president of Common Cause.)


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