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  • Reverend James Squire

Immigration




Earlier this summer, I received an email from Dr. Richard H. Heirs who is an alumnus of EA, received his B. A. and a Ph.D. in Religion from Yale. He also has a J.D. from the University of Florida. He has taught courses in Law, Religion, and Biblical Studies at the University of Florida and is a Past President of the American Academy of Religion. Richard had purchased a copy of This Too Shall Pass and offered to send two of his books to me, one on Immigration and a book on the rights of women in the Bible. He is erudite and brings an important perspective to both issues that is supported by the biblical record. My first thought was, “I can learn a lot from this gracious person!” He asked if we could continue our conversation via email. I have finished his book on Immigration and was inspired in various ways to connect his ideas to my own thinking.


The word immigrant is a word that we use to describe “the other.” I prefer the use of another term. I prefer the term, Sojourner,” which is a Hebrew term which describes the basic idea that a person or group is residing, either temporarily or permanently, in a community or place that is not their own and is dependent on the good-will of that community for their continued existence. Heir In his book on immigration takes the reader through a detailed examination of the Israelites and their identity as strangers and sojourners throughout their experience in making their way through history. He reminds us that they had to take Canaan from people who had earlier claimed that territory. When they were in the Sinai, my students found it interesting that their law codes were based on the many Suzerainty Treaties that they had to negotiate as they passed through territories governed by Suzerains.


The Jewish people were sojourners because their land was invaded multiple times by foreign powers. One of Hiers’ basic points is that “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9


What are the ramifications of this word, sojourner? In essence, if we use it, the term focuses on invitation and welcoming the stranger. It should stir feelings within us in the same way that the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem written at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New Work Harbor does: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” As a child, I remember standing in front of those words on a school trip and being stirred with emotion. What a grand gesture. Paul Farmer’s words bring us to the great ethical statement that he made that “the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”


Isabel Wilkerson makes the identical point in Caste when she concludes that human nature seems to need to have some group to exploit and look down upon. All of us have experienced a moment or situation where we were on the outside looking in and seen as the “other” by those who represent the prevailing world view.


When I received Hiers’ book on women’s rights, I thought immediately of arriving in Berkeley, the flagship university of California, and the site of where the free speech movement and the hippie movement began. You can still see the origins of that culture today. I arrived late at night to take a course on Women’s Rights in the Bible at the graduate school that sits on top of a hill. I made my way to Euclid Avenue where most of the restaurants were located. I dropped my things in the dorm and arrived on that avenue to get something to eat. There were long lines. As I waited in line with pierced tattooed bodies in front of me and behind me, I heard this question as I stood there in my khakis, blue jacket, white shirt and power tie. The person in front of me turned and asked, “Hey dude, what planet are you from?” My response was “Philadelphia.” He countered with, “That explains it.” There was laughter. I felt in a micro small way what immigrants must feel. But then things changed. They were interested in what I did back in Philly. During our conversation, I felt welcomed by these folk with whom I had not much in common. I felt like a sojourner. They couldn’t have been nicer.


All of this information about immigrants and sojourners was on my mind when I saw a story on the evening news that highlighted a possible solution in helping immigrants be transformed to sojourners in a strange land for a sojourner in the biblical sense must depend on the “good will” of others. The story that I have referenced is below. Who knows better than the Jewish community in understanding the heart of an immigrant and what is needed to transform them to sojourners. Read the signs and look into the faces of Masbia Relief.


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