Undocumented strangers

November 30th, 2015

Hillary Clinton has pledged to stop using the term "illegal immigrants."

She told journalist José Antonio Vargas that her choice of words was poor.

“As I’ve said throughout this campaign, the people at the heart of this issue are children, parents, families, DREAMers,” Clinton explained. “They have names, and hopes and dreams that deserve to be respected." 

Some immigration advocates will see Clinton’s mea culpa as a major step forward. Indeed, as one hashtag asserts, words matter. But more is needed than correcting word choices to correct the injustices inflicted upon undocumented immigrants.

To her credit, Clinton has outlined a commitment to comprehensive immigration reform beyond word choices. But she still falls short, as do most other candidates, of getting to the root of the problem.

The harsh political reality is that the immigration problems of the past 20 years have their roots in trade policies and legislation enacted by former President Bill Clinton. To really affect a lasting change, Hillary Clinton will have to advocate policies that clean up the immoral mess left by her husband.

The Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson, director of the award-winning immigration documentary The Second Cooler, has proposed one such plan. Aptly called the Platform for Comprehensive Migrant Justice, Jimmerson points to Clinton’s trade policies as the prime instigator of the “unauthorized migration of poor and indigenous peoples from Latin America to the United States.” NAFTA, she notes, simultaneously lifted tariffs that had been levied against U.S. corporations exporting products to Mexico and repealed Constitutional protections that the Mexican government had been extending to its “small, traditional farmers.” These actions forced farmers “off their lands and into migration” — and right into the jaws of a hostile and exploitative U.S. immigration system.

Jimmerson, who also is an ordained Baptist minister, calls for a number of corrective actions, including these:

  • a complete overhaul of the visa system so people from Latin America, Africa and Asia can enter the U.S. quickly and inexpensively, placing an emphasis on their need to work as opposed to their skills and wage-earning prospects;
  • de-militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border;
  • stopping all deportations until the Department of Homeland Security is removed from that process, along with for-profit prisons and quotas;
  • the restoration of due process to deportation proceedings;
  • a path to citizenship.

Many outside of the church support Jimmerson’s call but she’s also in sync with a growing number of believers. A poll of Evangelicals earlier this year found that while 86 percent want more border security, 61 percent want Congress to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The United Methodist Church is among those Christians who support a path to citizenship, an act consistent with the agenda Jesus laid out in Matthew 25.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,” Jesus said in verse 35. “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in …”

More individual Christians, as well as denominations, need to realize that the unauthorized migrants for whom Jimmerson advocates are the modern day equivalent of the strangers Jesus was talking about. And regardless of what we call them, what ultimately matters is what we are willing to do to help them.

I wonder how far Hillary Clinton is willing to go to undo the damage our nation has done to undocumented “strangers,” the very people we have been demonizing and criminalizing since the last time a Clinton sat in the Oval Office.

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