An Exercise In Welcoming The Stranger by William Klein

Recently Governors Greg Abbott of Texas, Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Arizona’s Doug Ducey have “relocated illegal immigrants” to places like Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Massachusetts. Abbott sent “busloads” to Vice President Kamala Harris’s house in Washington and DeSantis sent “two plane loads” to Martha’s Vineyard, a popular beachfront resort island for the wealthy on the shores of Massachusetts. It’s a great political trick considering that the midterm elections are upon us.

Aside from the fact that people are being used as political pawns in the immigration debate and their dignity is compromised, the end result may be a message in Christian hospitality.

The stories of how refugees ended up there are heart wrenching. A woman approached them in Texas and made empty promises to Venezuelan refugees. She said they would be guaranteed work permits and a promise of a better future. All they had to do was sign a waiver that they are leaving Texas of their own free will. One refugee was quoted as saying, “We’re poor and have nothing, so when you’re given an opportunity, you are grateful for the opportunity.”

Martha’s Vineyard’s main newspaper, The Vineyard Gazette reported the following: “Islanders [were] given no notice” of the arriving chartered flight of immigrants,” Rep. Dylan Fernandes said on Twitter, “but are coming together as a community to support them.”

Conservative talk radio hosts Clay Travis and Buck Sexton railed against “libs” for their hypocrisy of welcoming the stranger and their unwillingness to do so in this case. They played a radio clip in which a representative from a shelter said they may not have the space to keep refugees on the island. They thrived on the fact that these “Libs have plenty of places  for these people as the summer comes to an end and moves into the fall and winter.”

What they failed to mention is that there has been a housing shortage for people who work on the island as it is. This has been going on for months. Lisa Belcastro, the homeless shelter housing coordinator for Martha’s Vineyard, noted that there is a judicial process that comes into play as well. They (Islanders) are making things work but one needs to take into account that coordination will hinge on a number of factors. Considering the fact that cities were blindsided by this influx of people, they are scrambling to figure out what to do. An Episcopalian church has opened its door and accommodations are being met for their basic needs.

Once again, we are witness to the poor being used as political footballs in a never-ending grudge match of gotcha politics. Many of the migrants hail from Venezuela where they are escaping political persecution and many are desperate to find jobs to provide for their families back home.

The Covid pandemic has produced new opportunities for those seeking employment. I stopped in a store to buy some shoes and the store was closed. It was midweek, and I was surprised by this. I asked a clerk at another store. “Is that shoe store going out of business?” She replied, “No, they’ve had problems getting people to work there and are short staffed. They have no choice but to close.”

We’re seeing businesses that are looking for staff to fill vacant positions. It seems that these refugees could not have come at a better time.

As I listened to the talk show, I couldn’t help but note the failure on the part of the hosts to understand what is happening at the border. They noted that 8,000 migrants are caught every day. Although May numbers show 6,000 a day, the ball park number is correct. What they fail to realize is that most of the migrants will be deported and not be fully represented in court when their case comes to trial. 

The National Immigration Law Center states that the court has “forty-eight hours to determine if you are able to stay in this country.” Some migrants sign away their right to a court appearance and are deported immediately. If they do receive a court hearing, most detainees will be deported within a day of their trial. The numbers of detainees are such that the court has no choice but to deport them in a timely manner and most do not receive proper legal representation.

In this case, in northern states, lawyers who have been assigned to their clients are encountering problems in attending to the needs of their clients. The lawyers are coming from other states and have no way of getting in touch with them, so these refugees will likely be deported if they fail to show for their court hearings or are captured elsewhere and not be able to return to this country again.

The Bible is clear on this issue. We’ve heard the necessity of attending to the widow and the orphan and the welcoming of the stranger, but Hebrews 13 states it beautifully and can be considered the definitive voice on the issue in the New Testament:

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” 

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.”

The message is clear. Do right by others who are in need of your kindness and grace. Your grace stems from a merciful God who is willing to overlook your indiscretions in the name of all that is good.

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