Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Jee Wook Lee
MYTH STATEMENT

Migration is a problem.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Josue Carballo Huertas

Immigration Reform: Beyond Myths and Fears

Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero

Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero is pastor of The Gathering Place, a Latino-led multiethnic Assemblies of God congregation in Orlando, FL. Salguero is also the president and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. He was formerly director of the Hispanic Leadership Program and the Institute for Faith and Public Life at Princeton Theological Seminary. Rev. Salguero has served on the White House Faith-Based Advisory Council, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the board of La Asociación Evangélica Latina, the representative body for all evangelical associations in Latin America. He lives with his wife, Rev. Jeanette Salguero, and their two sons in Orlando.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35b, ESV). These words of Jesus are an ethical imperative, but they are difficult to unpack neatly in a bill passed by the House or Senate. I have repeatedly been asked, “Why, if over two-thirds of Americans favor common-sense and humane immigration reform, have we not enacted any reform in over forty years?”

Though a majority of Americans favor immigration reform, it has become a third rail in our national conversation. This is one of the most divisive issues in contemporary American political life. And when it comes to solving this intractable challenge with bipartisan legislation, there has been much heat and little light.

The topic elicits a great deal of emotion all over the political spectrum. It is into this milieu that thousands of evangelicals, like me, have spent over a decade trying to advocate for a wise and humane way forward. If we do not find a way forward, the United States will continue to have twentieth-century immigration policies responding to twenty-first century immigration challenges. We have an outdated immigration system that leaves undocumented immigrants waiting for years to have their cases heard in court. The previous presidential administration also sought to reduce legal migration, created a ban on refugees arriving from Muslim-majority countries, and refused to enact a permanent legislative solution comparable to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. These pervasive and enduring unresolved immigration policies have led to the largest ever immigration backlog. They have devastating impacts on the lives of immigrants and refugees who wish to contribute to the health of our nation.

A Call for Moral Courage

Our nation is in profound need of truth-telling and spiritual and moral courage that charts a way forward beyond the present stagnating fear. Common-sense bipartisan solutions must thread a political needle. Balancing the rule of law with rational integration policies requires a prudent, courageous statecraft that is sorely lacking in our hyper-polarized age. Elected officials need to be willing to tell the truth about the ruinous impacts of our current immigration policies on immigrants and our nation. They must seriously deal with the harmful root causes of displacement around the world through substantive foreign policy. And this must be coupled with the courage to legislate rather than engage in partisan hyperbolic rhetoric.   

One of the major hurdles is fear. Fear is a powerful emotion that often blocks legislative solutions. If Christian leaders are to form part of the solution, we cannot ignore this powerful sentiment in our collective national psyche. Fear obfuscates our ability to see and speak with each other.

The antidote is courage—courage to tell the truth about the state of our immigration system and to distinguish between arguments based on facts and those based on myths. Faith leaders need to stand up and lift the voices of immigrants and refugees. Every citizen can help listen and highlight the stories of our immigrant neighbors, coworkers, and family members. For genuine change, we need a grassroots groundswell of pastors, churches, business owners, teachers, parents, and all people of goodwill to say our nation can and must do better. Changing the immigration policy winds will require courage from many.

Our deepest fears are too often fueled by myths. The deep work of reflection, prayer, and truth-telling must precede public speech on immigration. The litany of uninformed opinions has coarsened public discourse and action. Sometimes we speak in political platitudes devoid of facts and Christian virtue. Christian public speech on immigration has too frequently come before understanding, and the damage has been considerable. Before we speak, we must seek to know and understand.

What, then, are these fears and myths that have for so long delayed progress on immigration reform? Here are three of the most harmful myths that continue to create obstacles to more just and humane immigration policies in America, and the truths necessary to counter these nefarious narratives.

1. The National Identity Myth

Certain segments of our society fear the loss of an idealized or romanticized national identity. In Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity, political philosopher Samuel P. Huntington underscores the often unspoken sentiment that America has a homogenous identity threatened by immigration flows. Geraldo Rivera wrote about some of these fears in his book His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S.

With the exception of indigenous peoples and enslaved African people, the United States is a nation of immigrants. Any idealized depiction of a homogeneous nation is ahistorical. We cannot ignore our mixed legacy of receiving immigrants into our national mosaic. Our nation has received millions fleeing tyranny, poverty, and oppression, while also passing racialized and xenophobic laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act. Any initiatives toward bipartisan immigration reform must squarely address the myth of a culturally and racially homogenous nation.  

In response to anxieties about national cohesion, we need a clear vision that our national unity—E pluribus unum, or “out of many, one”—is not based on culture or race but a shared commitment to a diverse democratic society. Diversity enriches our democracy and reflects the Christian ethic of unity across diversity evidenced in the kingdom of God in Revelation 7:9, which says “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (NIV). 

Any law based on blind nationalism is not only idolatrous but inevitably leads to a nation’s decline. Efforts by the previous administration to seriously reduce legal immigration while refusing to reform outdated immigration are reflective of this temptation. Recent political rhetoric about “taking our country back” is a not-so-subtle allusion to an us-vs.-them mindset based on ethnocentric and idolatrous nationalism. We can and must do better.

2. The Economic Myth

Immigrants, many believe, are a burden to our economic system. For decades, this myth has served as a leitmotif in arguments against immigration reform and expanding legal immigration.  

However, studies show that the millions of immigrants already in the US are a net positive to the American economy. According to bipartisan political organization FWD.us, “Immigrants added $2 trillion to the US GDP in 2016 and $458.7 billion in state, local, and federal taxes in 2018.” In addition, immigrants are vital to creating jobs across our country. The bipartisan research firm New American Economy reports that, in 2017, 8 million people were employed at immigrant-owned businesses, which earned $1.3 trillion in revenue.

In short, immigration reform can help the economy. A new immigration system that integrates immigrants will continue to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. The status quo does not address economic challenges; reform does. We can and should have the creative genius to make this a win-win for all.

It’s important to note that, as a Jesus-follower, I believe economics is not the moral arbiter of national decisions. Christianity demands hospitality, and hospitality requires sacrifice.

As Christians, we are mandated to love our neighbor as ourselves without prejudice toward origin, color, or creed. Scripture, from Abraham and Sarah to Jesus and the early church, is saturated with the narrative of immigrants and sojourners in need of hospitality. In the end, nations are judged by how they treat the most vulnerable among them. Love thy neighbor does not end at our borders. Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to our highest biblical values. We cannot abdicate this responsibility.

In the last ten years, repeated bipartisan efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration bill have not been successful. Much of the failure is due to misunderstandings about how immigration positively impacts our nation and fears of an ever-changing demography.

3. The Law-and-Order Myth

Some fear that if we reward undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship or a restitution-based integration policy, the nation will set a dangerous precedent. Perhaps the resulting flow of immigration will overwhelm us.

Those who adhere to this belief think a more open immigration system is a threat to our national sovereignty and the rule of law. Fear of lawlessness has led to an entrenched resistance to modernizing our immigration system.

We cannot ignore the fact that broken laws hurt people. Theologian St. Augustine reminds us that “an unjust law is no law at all.” The book of Romans tells us to submit to authority (Rom. 13) but at the same time reminds us not to conform to patterns that are incongruent with our gospel values (Rom. 12).

Historically, our nation has periodically modernized its immigration systems in response to economic demands and global migration flows. Immigration reform can include requiring back-tax payments, penalties for employers who have circumvented the system, and humane border supervision.

Nevertheless, we cannot and should not ignore the nearly 11 million undocumented men, women, and children who are already here after fleeing violence, corruption, persecution, and death. Massive deportations, on the scale of the book of Exodus, are immoral and do not offer a realistic solution. In addition, both major political parties agree that, pragmatically, deportation remains beyond our economic and logistical capacities.

Reform must include respect for the rule of law and humane integration of immigrants. We must confront the challenge of legal positivism, the belief that because a law exists, it is necessarily good. In our attempts to advocate for immigration reform, we should heed Cicero and St. Augustine’s admonitions for the pursuit of summum bonum—the highest good. We should continuously ask: What laws should we pass that treat our immigrant neighbors with dignity and respect, while dealing with the root causes that displace millions of God’s children around the world? 

For me, as a Christian citizen, the question is not “What is the law?” Rather, it’s “Is that law moral and good?” Our calls for immigration reform are not, as some have caricatured, a request for no immigration laws but instead for more humane immigration laws that honor the dignity of all people. 

The Path Forward

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once asked, “Where do we go from here: chaos or community?” Despite all its challenges, immigration reform offers us an opportunity to renew our democracy. Our moral witness is elevated, our diversity is deepened, our economy benefits, and our democracy is broadened. Part of the test of our national character is reflected in how we treat immigrants.

The famous Spanish poet Antonio Machado once wrote, “Caminante, no hay camino se hace camino al andar.” Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by traveling. Machado reminds us to have the courage to not sacrifice our immigrant brothers and sisters on the altar of political expediency. We must chart a way forward on immigration beyond fear and myths. Silence and inaction are not options.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35b, ESV). These words of Jesus are an ethical imperative, but they are difficult to unpack neatly in a bill passed by the House or Senate. I have repeatedly been asked, “Why, if over two-thirds of Americans favor common-sense and humane immigration reform, have we not enacted any reform in over forty years?”

Though a majority of Americans favor immigration reform, it has become a third rail in our national conversation. This is one of the most divisive issues in contemporary American political life. And when it comes to solving this intractable challenge with bipartisan legislation, there has been much heat and little light.

The topic elicits a great deal of emotion all over the political spectrum. It is into this milieu that thousands of evangelicals, like me, have spent over a decade trying to advocate for a wise and humane way forward. If we do not find a way forward, the United States will continue to have twentieth-century immigration policies responding to twenty-first century immigration challenges. We have an outdated immigration system that leaves undocumented immigrants waiting for years to have their cases heard in court. The previous presidential administration also sought to reduce legal migration, created a ban on refugees arriving from Muslim-majority countries, and refused to enact a permanent legislative solution comparable to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. These pervasive and enduring unresolved immigration policies have led to the largest ever immigration backlog. They have devastating impacts on the lives of immigrants and refugees who wish to contribute to the health of our nation.

A Call for Moral Courage

Our nation is in profound need of truth-telling and spiritual and moral courage that charts a way forward beyond the present stagnating fear. Common-sense bipartisan solutions must thread a political needle. Balancing the rule of law with rational integration policies requires a prudent, courageous statecraft that is sorely lacking in our hyper-polarized age. Elected officials need to be willing to tell the truth about the ruinous impacts of our current immigration policies on immigrants and our nation. They must seriously deal with the harmful root causes of displacement around the world through substantive foreign policy. And this must be coupled with the courage to legislate rather than engage in partisan hyperbolic rhetoric.   

One of the major hurdles is fear. Fear is a powerful emotion that often blocks legislative solutions. If Christian leaders are to form part of the solution, we cannot ignore this powerful sentiment in our collective national psyche. Fear obfuscates our ability to see and speak with each other.

Our nation is in profound need of truth-telling and spiritual and moral courage that charts a way forward beyond the present stagnating fear.

The antidote is courage—courage to tell the truth about the state of our immigration system and to distinguish between arguments based on facts and those based on myths. Faith leaders need to stand up and lift the voices of immigrants and refugees. Every citizen can help listen and highlight the stories of our immigrant neighbors, coworkers, and family members. For genuine change, we need a grassroots groundswell of pastors, churches, business owners, teachers, parents, and all people of goodwill to say our nation can and must do better. Changing the immigration policy winds will require courage from many.

Our deepest fears are too often fueled by myths. The deep work of reflection, prayer, and truth-telling must precede public speech on immigration. The litany of uninformed opinions has coarsened public discourse and action. Sometimes we speak in political platitudes devoid of facts and Christian virtue. Christian public speech on immigration has too frequently come before understanding, and the damage has been considerable. Before we speak, we must seek to know and understand.

What, then, are these fears and myths that have for so long delayed progress on immigration reform? Here are three of the most harmful myths that continue to create obstacles to more just and humane immigration policies in America, and the truths necessary to counter these nefarious narratives.

1. The National Identity Myth

Certain segments of our society fear the loss of an idealized or romanticized national identity. In Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity, political philosopher Samuel P. Huntington underscores the often unspoken sentiment that America has a homogenous identity threatened by immigration flows. Geraldo Rivera wrote about some of these fears in his book His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S.

With the exception of indigenous peoples and enslaved African people, the United States is a nation of immigrants. Any idealized depiction of a homogeneous nation is ahistorical. We cannot ignore our mixed legacy of receiving immigrants into our national mosaic. Our nation has received millions fleeing tyranny, poverty, and oppression, while also passing racialized and xenophobic laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act. Any initiatives toward bipartisan immigration reform must squarely address the myth of a culturally and racially homogenous nation.  

Any initiatives toward bipartisan immigration reform must squarely address the myth of a culturally and racially homogenous nation.

In response to anxieties about national cohesion, we need a clear vision that our national unity—E pluribus unum, or “out of many, one”—is not based on culture or race but a shared commitment to a diverse democratic society. Diversity enriches our democracy and reflects the Christian ethic of unity across diversity evidenced in the kingdom of God in Revelation 7:9, which says “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (NIV). 

Any law based on blind nationalism is not only idolatrous but inevitably leads to a nation’s decline. Efforts by the previous administration to seriously reduce legal immigration while refusing to reform outdated immigration are reflective of this temptation. Recent political rhetoric about “taking our country back” is a not-so-subtle allusion to an us-vs.-them mindset based on ethnocentric and idolatrous nationalism. We can and must do better.

2. The Economic Myth

Immigrants, many believe, are a burden to our economic system. For decades, this myth has served as a leitmotif in arguments against immigration reform and expanding legal immigration.  

However, studies show that the millions of immigrants already in the US are a net positive to the American economy. According to bipartisan political organization FWD.us, “Immigrants added $2 trillion to the US GDP in 2016 and $458.7 billion in state, local, and federal taxes in 2018.” In addition, immigrants are vital to creating jobs across our country. The bipartisan research firm New American Economy reports that, in 2017, 8 million people were employed at immigrant-owned businesses, which earned $1.3 trillion in revenue.

Love thy neighbor does not end at our borders. Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to our highest biblical values.

In short, immigration reform can help the economy. A new immigration system that integrates immigrants will continue to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. The status quo does not address economic challenges; reform does. We can and should have the creative genius to make this a win-win for all.

It’s important to note that, as a Jesus-follower, I believe economics is not the moral arbiter of national decisions. Christianity demands hospitality, and hospitality requires sacrifice.

As Christians, we are mandated to love our neighbor as ourselves without prejudice toward origin, color, or creed. Scripture, from Abraham and Sarah to Jesus and the early church, is saturated with the narrative of immigrants and sojourners in need of hospitality. In the end, nations are judged by how they treat the most vulnerable among them. Love thy neighbor does not end at our borders. Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to our highest biblical values. We cannot abdicate this responsibility.

In the last ten years, repeated bipartisan efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration bill have not been successful. Much of the failure is due to misunderstandings about how immigration positively impacts our nation and fears of an ever-changing demography.

3. The Law-and-Order Myth

Some fear that if we reward undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship or a restitution-based integration policy, the nation will set a dangerous precedent. Perhaps the resulting flow of immigration will overwhelm us.

Those who adhere to this belief think a more open immigration system is a threat to our national sovereignty and the rule of law. Fear of lawlessness has led to an entrenched resistance to modernizing our immigration system.

We cannot ignore the fact that broken laws hurt people. Theologian St. Augustine reminds us that “an unjust law is no law at all.” The book of Romans tells us to submit to authority (Rom. 13) but at the same time reminds us not to conform to patterns that are incongruent with our gospel values (Rom. 12).

For me, as a Christian citizen, the question is not “What is the law?” Rather, it’s “Is that law moral and good?”

Historically, our nation has periodically modernized its immigration systems in response to economic demands and global migration flows. Immigration reform can include requiring back-tax payments, penalties for employers who have circumvented the system, and humane border supervision.

Nevertheless, we cannot and should not ignore the nearly 11 million undocumented men, women, and children who are already here after fleeing violence, corruption, persecution, and death. Massive deportations, on the scale of the book of Exodus, are immoral and do not offer a realistic solution. In addition, both major political parties agree that, pragmatically, deportation remains beyond our economic and logistical capacities.

Reform must include respect for the rule of law and humane integration of immigrants. We must confront the challenge of legal positivism, the belief that because a law exists, it is necessarily good. In our attempts to advocate for immigration reform, we should heed Cicero and St. Augustine’s admonitions for the pursuit of summum bonum—the highest good. We should continuously ask: What laws should we pass that treat our immigrant neighbors with dignity and respect, while dealing with the root causes that displace millions of God’s children around the world? 

For me, as a Christian citizen, the question is not “What is the law?” Rather, it’s “Is that law moral and good?” Our calls for immigration reform are not, as some have caricatured, a request for no immigration laws but instead for more humane immigration laws that honor the dignity of all people. 

The Path Forward

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once asked, “Where do we go from here: chaos or community?” Despite all its challenges, immigration reform offers us an opportunity to renew our democracy. Our moral witness is elevated, our diversity is deepened, our economy benefits, and our democracy is broadened. Part of the test of our national character is reflected in how we treat immigrants.

The famous Spanish poet Antonio Machado once wrote, “Caminante, no hay camino se hace camino al andar.” Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by traveling. Machado reminds us to have the courage to not sacrifice our immigrant brothers and sisters on the altar of political expediency. We must chart a way forward on immigration beyond fear and myths. Silence and inaction are not options.

Our nation is in profound need of truth-telling and spiritual and moral courage that charts a way forward beyond the present stagnating fear.
Any initiatives toward bipartisan immigration reform must squarely address the myth of a culturally and racially homogenous nation.
Love thy neighbor does not end at our borders. Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to our highest biblical values.
For me, as a Christian citizen, the question is not “What is the law?” Rather, it’s “Is that law moral and good?”
Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard

The Most Restrictive Border in the World

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer, editor, and communications consultant. She has served in the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors for more than a decade, including stints in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Kenya. Dorcas is the author of two books, Start Love Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-up World and Let There d.light: How One Social Enterprise Brought Solar Products to 100 Million People. Her next book, Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul, will be released in 2022. She is an editor with Pax and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two hapa sons.

Helen Lee

Helen Lee is the associate director of strategic partnerships and initiatives at InterVarsity Press (IVP), where she previously served as a marketing director and an acquisitions editor. She is the creator and producer of IVP’s Every Voice Now Podcast. Helen is a longtime writer in Christian spaces, starting at Christianity Today in the mid-1990s during which time she wrote her seminal article on Asian American Christianity, “Silent Exodus.” She has authored, edited, and contributed to a number of books, devotionals, and Bibles, including The Missional Mom. Her next coauthored book, The Race-Wise Family, will be released May 2022. Helen is married to classical pianist and professor Brian Lee; they live in Chicagoland and have three active, teenage sons.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

A CONSTANT OUTSIDER

Jean Nangwala

Jean Nangwala is a singer, speaker, creator and survivor-advocate. She was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia. Her passion for social justice stems from her personal experience of injustice and witnessing the same inequality across the globe.

0:00
0:00

Isn't it amazing

That how I pronounce my words

Is a mispronunciation to you 

But you go on and find the need to correct me

Instead of clarifying that you did not hear me

Do you realise that the mental battle in my head

Hinders me from showing up

Fully myself 

Because I am trying to fit into the world that is only justified through your eyes

Honestly

It is tiring 


Let me let you into the integral parts of me

My name is Jean Mubanga Nangwala

Mubanga

A bemba name that represents great strength

My name carries a meaning that has defined my journey but also shaped the way I move throughout the world

Nangwala, trust me, I too do not know the meaning

But this Tonga name carries the lineage of the blood that flows inside of me

That has defined my entire existence 

And tells a story of those before me 

and I 

The story that's yet to unfold 


Let’s not forget colonization 

Indegenious languages stripped away as undesirable 

My tongue twisting in different directions to learn a new language 

Yet still make sure to be connected to my own

Because that's the only way to keep my culture alive

Switching between accents and annunciations 

You learning a new language is seen as exotic 

Yet for me it has been survival 


You might ask, well if your country is that great then why did you come?

Well I am glad you asked 

My language and culture was not the only thing under attack 

I, a woman

Living under constant rules that control me 

A stranger in my own body because

Who am I without these expectations suffocating me

So yes, I search for freedom 


Oh! Let's not forget our resources were stolen and now 

My country suffers the repercussions of that until this day

I live in a place with so little opportunities 

That I have to leave everything I know

To have the future I desire 

I continue to be in survival mode 

Because the life I live is that of a constant outsider 


Somebody asked me 


Do you understand english 

I paused for a second and wondered, 

how do they think i understood their question

So, instead of correcting me

Even when you understood what i just said  

I want you to take a moment and remember that 

you aren't any different from the colonizers that 

Made my ancestors feel less of a person 



I agree to this, Africa is definitely a big happy family 

But with countries, tribes and languages 

If you could just take a moment

My life experience might open your eyes up to a world full of colour

Food so rich with flavour 

You take a nap right after 


Drums that feel connected to your heart beat

Our music

A right of passage throughout one’s lifespan 

Ululations

A beautiful way to express joy and sadness 

From my skin tone

To how I style my hair

The colours I wear

I exude beauty. 


Pay attention to my body language 

The tone of my voice 

The joy I bring 

I did not come here to harm you or steal from you 

I came to find a piece of opportunity that was taken from me 


Come to think of it,

I am not the outsider, 

She who has a mouth can never get lost. 

I move through this world

With parables as a guiding force 

My hips tells the story of the culture i represent 

My walk is just not a walk 

My braids tells the innovative way my people 

Protected, themselves, told their story 

My hair is sacred 


Because my ancestors knew better 

Than allow me ever feel like any place does not belong to me 

See,

My ability to thrive in the dry heat of my beautiful country 

To the humidity and the cold of the north 

Is evidence 

That i was meant

to exist wherever I chose 


Ukwete akanwa teti alube

Link copied
to clipboard
Link copied
to clipboard

ARTIST STATEMENT

At the beginning of this project, I sought to leverage the historical artifacts related to this event, so history could speak for itself. When I saw some of the blatantly racist and dehumanizing propaganda art associated with the Chinese Exclusion Act, I had trouble imagining how anyone could create such awful designs meant to shape public perception of a specific ethnic group.  But the truth is that, at the time, a majority of Americans didn’t even think twice about the degrading language and images. They supported the inhumane policies that harmed both Chinese migrants and Chinese American citizens.  Then I realized that the same is true today. As a nation, the US still creates and distributes pseudo propaganda with harmful, dehumanizing messages to prop up our xenophobic policies of the twenty-first century. Throw a dash of the good ol’ red, white, and blue in there, and it becomes a painfully familiar symbol of American history.  My goal as the artist was to reflect how such a grave injustice was carried out under the collective belief that this was best for the country. The political stickers bring the past into the present, revealing how well-crafted political messaging today still promotes xenophobic priorities masquerading as “good for the country” policies, at the great expense of our migrant neighbors.

by Mondo Scott

MIGRATION CASE STUDY: CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer, editor, and communications consultant. She has served in the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors for more than a decade, including stints in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Kenya. Dorcas is the author of two books, Start Love Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-up World and Let There d.light: How One Social Enterprise Brought Solar Products to 100 Million People. Her next book, Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul, will be released in 2022. She is an editor with Pax and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two hapa sons.

For those who see migration as a problem, one possible solution is to simply stop it. Deny all visas; turn away all foreigners; close our borders. In the United States, we’ve tried this multiple times before--and the consequences for both immigrants and non-immigrants have been painful and longstanding. “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes,” Spanish philosopher George Santayana famously said. The lessons of history are gifted to us in hopes that we can do better and be more Christlike in the future--if we have eyes to see and ears to listen.

The Chinese Exclusion Act, or Immigration Act of 1882, was one of those attempts to severely curtail immigration. Signed by  President Chester A. Arthur to prevent Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States, it remains the most restrictive immigration law in US history, the only one to target all members of one specific ethnicity. The Chinese were essential in the completion of the intercontinental railroad, but their contributions were dismissed and resulted in harsh retaliation. White Americans felt threatened by Chinese workers, who made up only 0.02% of the population, because they were paid far lower wages. 

The law also placed restrictions on Chinese residents in the US, explicitly barring them from citizenship and requiring them to carry certificates of residence at all times. Those caught without certificates could be sentenced to hard labor or deportation. Any Chinese who voluntarily left the US, even if they had valid certificates of residence, were not allowed to return.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect for more than six decades. It was not overturned until the 1943 Magnuson Act as part of our alliance with China during World War II, though it only allowed 105 Chinese immigrants annually. We still live with the devastating legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act today.

For those who see migration as a problem, one possible solution is to simply stop it. Deny all visas; turn away all foreigners; close our borders. In the United States, we’ve tried this multiple times before--and the consequences for both immigrants and non-immigrants have been painful and longstanding. “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes,” Spanish philosopher George Santayana famously said. The lessons of history are gifted to us in hopes that we can do better and be more Christlike in the future--if we have eyes to see and ears to listen.

The Chinese Exclusion Act, or Immigration Act of 1882, was one of those attempts to severely curtail immigration. Signed by  President Chester A. Arthur to prevent Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States, it remains the most restrictive immigration law in US history, the only one to target all members of one specific ethnicity. The Chinese were essential in the completion of the intercontinental railroad, but their contributions were dismissed and resulted in harsh retaliation. White Americans felt threatened by Chinese workers, who made up only 0.02% of the population, because they were paid far lower wages. 

The law also placed restrictions on Chinese residents in the US, explicitly barring them from citizenship and requiring them to carry certificates of residence at all times. Those caught without certificates could be sentenced to hard labor or deportation. Any Chinese who voluntarily left the US, even if they had valid certificates of residence, were not allowed to return.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect for more than six decades. It was not overturned until the 1943 Magnuson Act as part of our alliance with China during World War II, though it only allowed 105 Chinese immigrants annually. We still live with the devastating legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act today.

Link copied
to clipboard
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

Short-term Impact

  • The passage of the law began a period of violence and intimidation against ethnic Chinese known as “the Driving Out.”
  • On September 2, 1885, 150 white miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, violently attacked their Chinese coworkers, killing 28, wounding 15 others, and driving several hundred more out of town. This inspired communities all across the Western coast to drive out Chinese residents through threats, intimidation, and violence.
  • Over the next two years, more than 160 communities across the US West violently and aggressively drove out their Chinese residents.
  • After the passage of the law, even American-born Chinese had trouble finding employment, forcing many to return to China to seek opportunities.

Long-term Impact

  • By 1920, only about 61,000 Chinese remained in the US, down from around 300,000 before the passage of the law.
  • The Chinese Exclusion Act opened the way for the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted immigration for other “undesirable groups,” including individuals from the Middle East, India, and Japan--and created the political and social climate that allowed for the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
  • The law created the first US surveillance system of a group of long-term residents.
  • It also destroyed previously integrated communities and led to hyper-segregated enclaves.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

Remaining Legacy Today

Reflective Consideration

The story of the Chinese Exclusion Act is far from unique. For centuries, almost every immigrant group arriving in a new place has experienced hatred, oppression, rejection, and violence. This hostility toward the foreigner is a centuries-old sin that keeps recurs over and over again, harming untold numbers of God’s children.

The choices that we and our leaders make about immigration today impact current migrants but also generations to follow. Will we choose fear, scapegoating, and exclusion? Or will we heed our calling, as people of God, to extend hospitality, love, and generosity to the foreigner? Will we choose to learn from history’s mistakes?

May God grant us wisdom, compassion, courage, and generosity to love our migrant neighbors well.


MATERIAL   >
<   MANIFESTO