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Immigration Activist Condemns U.S. at Foundry United Methodist Church LuncheonEric LeMastersSeptember 8, 2010
Immigrants to the U.S., legal and illegal, are simply reclaiming what the U.S. has “stolen” from their native countries, according to a United Methodist seminary professor who spoke at famously liberal Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. in honor of Labor Day.
Foundry Church, former place of worship for Bill and Hillary Clinton among other notables, hosted a luncheon on Sunday entitled “God, Immigration and Work” led by social activist Miguel De La Torre, social ethics professor at United Methodism’s Iliff School of Theology and author of numerous books on the subject of immigration justice. Also represented were members from the Foundry-sponsored Union de Trabajadores, a day laborer’s association active in the Washington, D.C. area.
The event, set to coincide with the Labor Day weekend, drew attention to the plight of undocumented immigrants operating in the current economic downturn.
Dr. De La Torre began by blaming U.S. involvement in the Caribbean and Central America as the cause for the current immigration problem. “The reason why I am here is because of U.S. foreign policy,” said De La Torre, citing his own experience as a Cuban expatriate who left his country, along with his family, a year after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. He and his family were, for a time, considered “illegal immigrants” when their tourist visas expired. He leveled considerable criticism at U.S. policies throughout the 20th century that purportedly protected corporate interests in Cuba at the expense of its people, and America’s history of aiding corrupt governments that supported American business endeavors.
“What happened in Cuba is just an example of what’s happened in pretty much every country throughout Central America. In fact,” De La Torre argued, “Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean have been invaded by the U.S. to put in a new government an average of 20 to 30 times in the last century.”
De La Torre stuck with his theme of immigrants as America’s victims. “When we ask why people move to this country, what they usually say is that they [immigrants] come looking for freedom,” De La Torre explained. “Or we like to say, they come to use up our services. Both responses are wrong. The reason we come is because of 100 years of foreign policy.” According to De La Torre, these policies include the “stealing” of resources and cheap labor from Central and South American countries, as well as the support for repressive regimes. This, he argues, has apparently led to violence and strife in these regions which has prompted mass immigration to the United States.
“The question we should be asking is not, ‘How can we treat the immigrant that’s undocumented,’” argued De La Torre. “It’s not an issue of charity… When a nation enters into another nation to build roads [to access] their natural resources and their cheap labor, we should not be surprised when those same people take those same roads following everything that’s been stolen from them. We have an immigration problem because for over 100 years we have had a foreign policy that has stolen from these countries. ”
De La Torre concluded: “So any kind of comprehensive immigration reform is not going to fix the problem. This problem has taken 100 years to create. It may take another century before we fix this. What I want to say when we begin this conversation is that we’re asking the wrong question. The [question] is not, ‘What do we do with them?’ The [question] is, ‘How much do we owe them?’”
Sunday’s talk marks the second time this year that De La Torre has appeared at Foundry to discuss race issues. In March, he delivered a sermon entitled “Was Jesus a Racist?” in which he examined the story in Matthew 15:21-28 relating Jesus’ healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Although a transcript of the sermon was not available, his article of the same subject ran in the Associated Baptist Press last year. In it he draws a parallel between Christ’s indoctrination in a “racist” Jewish culture and the current liberal view of relations between Hispanics and Americans of European decent.
De La Torre deals critically with the exchange between the two characters, and posits that Jesus’ initial rebuff of the Canaanite woman “reveals the racism his culture taught him.” But luckily, according to De La Torre, “Jesus, unlike so many within the dominant social structure of today, was willing to hear the words of this woman of color, and learn from her.” Tying this in with the immigration debate, he offers that the Canaanite woman “had to cross the ‘border’ demarcated by Jesus' culture. But she crosses this border not to worship her oppressor (Jesus), but to demand an equal place at the table of the Lord. She demands to be treated as an equal.”
Having rooted much of his career in academia as an advocate for radical immigration reform for the undocumented, De La Torre at times cites past American foreign policy injustices as license to break current immigration law. As he writes in Patheos.com, an online multifaith journal, “Christians realize that justice and equality toward the least always trumps any laws of nations that disenfranchise portions of the community. Whenever immoral laws are in place, a moral obligation exists to be illegal.”
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