Commentary

No, Mr. Obama, America Is Not ‘Afflicting the Stranger’

By Rabbi Aryeh Spero | December 1, 2014 | 2:29pm EST

Protestors in Murrieta, Calif. (AP)


In his Executive Order speech defending what most consider outright amnesty for five million illegal immigrants, President Obama cited the biblical verse in Exodus: “Thou shalt not afflict the stranger(22:20).” There is no question that unlawful immigrants will soon be awarded a full basket of on-going social services, as well as a fast-track to citizenship. Is the President correct in asserting that we have been afflicting the stranger?

In all matters the Bible teaches discernment, and there is a distinct difference between not afflicting another, as opposed to requiring that we provide them citizenship and subsidize an entire life, especially when the burden of that support falls on the shoulders of over-taxed families, themselves not beneficiaries of such “entitlements.” Basic respect and kindness is one thing—it is a sign of our humanity; onerous sacrifice and national bankruptcy is another, something not required.

The Bible’s primary interest in this matter is a moral one: we all start out as children of God and should thus be treated with civility.  In contrast to the biblical community, many ancient societies viewed strangers as fair game to be robbed, incarcerated, or as fodder for harsh sport and brutality. This, the Bible exhorts, was the way of Sodom.  Even today there are cultures and nations where “infidels” and strangers are oppressed and treated as sub-human and as dhimmis.

Yes, the Bible is clear: “One law shall prevail for all.”  Basic justice regarding one’s property, personhood, and a right to trial is universal and transcends tribe. However, what serious American citizen would claim “affliction” if not provided complete subsidy? Nor is automatic citizenship the antidote required to prove an absence of affliction. That’s a bar too high.

The Bible is a compassionate document, but also a cautious one, asking that we eschew hyperbole and employ discernment and balance.  No value, not even compassion, is set in a vacuum or regarded as so open-ended as to be blind to reality. No gesture can ignore the impact of how what may be good for one is harmful and unfair to thousands of others.

The requirement of charity, for example, was capped at ten percent. Field owners were asked to leave the corners of their field to the poor and strangers, but they were never asked to plough, seed and harvest additional fields and take on a “second job” so as to satisfy the needs of an expanding receivership class.  Taxation as charity should not devolve into a punishing servitude or serfdom in behalf of others.

What the Bible, and Jesus, had in mind was maintaining a person’s dignity on a subsistence level, not a full array of 2014 cradle-to-grave amenities.

In today’s cuddly ethos, we often reserve compassion only for those considered “outsiders.” The truth is, God has equal compassion for regular citizens who work hard and play by the rules. They can’t be cast outside the circle of those worthy of compassion.

Compassion is a two-way street, something demanded even from the stranger toward the citizen/provider. The double emphasis on justice in “Justice, justice shall ye pursue” (Deut. 16:20), implies that both parties be considered and treated fairly. Justice and compassion demand that we safeguard our citizens and children from the specter of incoming crime and disease.

Nor did the Bible request that the decency we extend to strangers result in national suicide. It never encouraged a virtual open-border situation, where the host country is overrun and loses its indigenous culture, suspends its laws and invites disarray, diminishing its ability to flourish as a unique and sovereign entity.

Indeed, so paramount was the ideal of protected borders, and what it means to a country’s economic and cultural viability, that God said, “And I shall protect your borders so that strangers and enemies will not fill your camp and become a thorn in your side (Exodus 34:12).”  There are even reports that jihadists are among those who are entering here illegally.

None of this should be construed as anti-immigration per se. What separates our current circumstance of immigration from previous ones is precisely the welfare state the U.S. has become, with massive immigration’s hefty burden on taxpayers and its threat to basic services.

Furthermore, the anti-assimilationist fervor among today’s multicultural ideologues raises the question as to whether America’s historic cultural ethos can survive this huge foreign influx.

Nor is this an issue of race; indeed, many of us admire the qualities of those coming from south of the border.

The Bible’s focus is on morality, and its humane ethos should not be exploited for the political agenda of those whose ultimate goal is to drastically change demographics so as to ensure liberal ideological dominance and control. Nor did the Bible see its mission as fostering a replacement of an existing society and its identity through a massive Obama-like ‘transformative’ immigration.

Over the years, many in the social-justice crowd have boasted that they “comfort the uncomfortable and discomfit the comfortable.” How ironic that those making the point not to afflict the stranger have a knee jerk desire to afflict the comfortable, including most middle class who daily work hard just to remain afloat. It sounds more like vengeance than it does social justice.

During the last fifty years, every social issue has been framed as a referendum or “test” of whether the American people are “good”.  But we Americans don’t need to prove our goodness. This transformative immigration issue should be decided on common sense and what is good for taxpaying citizens, our cultural future and what constitutes compassion and justice for middle class America.

Rabbi Aryeh Spero, a theologian, is author of Push Back (Evergreen Press) and president of Caucus for America

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