On Wednesday evening former Secretary of State Condi Rice picked a fight with a large and vocal section of the Republican base, and I’m glad she did. This confrontation is long overdue. Zero-tolerance law-and-order rhetoric about the immigration issue has become the standard for talk radio and other conservative circles, and I think that this fact puts much of the conservative movement at odds with two of its most important foundations: a view of compassion derived from the Biblical tradition, and a commitment to economic freedom and limited government as an optimistic upward path to prosperity.
Here’s what she said:
More than at any other time in history, greatness is built on mobilizing human potential and ambition. We have always done that better than any country in the world. People have come here from all over because they have believed our creed of opportunity and limitless horizons.
They have come here from the world’s most impoverished nations just to make a decent wage. And they have come here from advanced societies as engineers and scientists that fuel the knowledge-based revolution in the Silicon Valley of California, in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, along Route 128 in Massachusetts, in Austin, Texas, and across this great land.
We must continue to welcome the world’s most ambitious people to be a part of us. In that way, we stay young and optimistic and determined. We need immigration laws that protect our borders, meet our economic needs, and yet show that we are a compassionate nation of immigrants.
Let’s start with the Biblical compassion part of this. If there is one thing which is made absolutely crystal clear in the Bible in terms of political issues, it is the absolute mandate of compassion towards immigrants. One can argue about whether the Bible does or does not permit abortion. I would argue that it does not, but those arguments are inferential. Arguments about monogamy are also inferential, though I think persuasive. But the commands about immigrants are direct and crystal clear.
18 “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
19 “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
The argument that Israel had once been aliens makes many appearances in the Torah and elsewhere in the Tanakh. The Hebrew word for alien, ???? , is used 17 times in Deuteronomy, 10 times in Leviticus, 9 times in Numbers and 5 times in Exodus. Almost every reference is some sort of exhortation to treat the alien with justice or compassion, sometimes in general terms, but often granting specific legal rights. For example, in contrast with much talk radio handwringing about immigrant (illegal or otherwise) consumption of American resources, the alien is specifically included in various aspects of Israel’s public welfare system. For example the gleaning system by which farmers in Israel were forbidden to reap to the edge of their fields is mentioned by name as to be preserved for the benefit of the needy among the Jewish community AND the alien.
22 ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.’”
19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
Elsewhere in the Torah, in addition to the right to glean for grain in the field, the alien is given the right to glean from grapevines and olive trees.
The alien is protected from the abuse of usury (the charging of interest for charitable aid, as distinguished from modern consumer or business loans).
36 ‘Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you.’
The alien is also given the right to partake of what is called the poor tithe, food resources distributed in the local towns at the city gate.
In fact the Biblical injunctions about the alien are so strong that the Bible sometimes reverses what we would call the natural order of charity, arguing that if a fellow Israelite falls on hard times to make sure to treat him the same way one would an alien.
35 ‘Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.
Most people do not realize that an entire book of the Bible is dedicated to the story of an alien who comes to Israel (without border checks, presenting papers or any discernible process of naturalization), participates in Israel’s workfare program, and is shown kindness by a prominent Israelite who eventually marries her. Ruth becomes an ancestor not only of David, but of Jesus.
Speaking of Jesus, a great deal of the Gospels is spent in recounting stories about his dealings with unwelcome and unwanted immigrants of one sort or another. The Israelites of Jesus’ day possessed an intense (and understandable) dislike of Samaritans, which is a catch-all title for a wide array of aliens who came into Northern Israel, largely during the time that the Jews were in exile. The Jews returned, but the Samaritans did not leave, continuing to live in what had previously been Jewish homes, tilling what had previously been Jewish fields. Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well and shocks both her and the disciples by treating her with open dignity and respect in a public place. A steady stream of Roman occupiers (the most obnoxious form of immigrant imaginable) and ill and possessed gentile men, women and children receive free health care from Jesus with distressingly little discrimination.
And why not? Jesus himself was a refugee, which is a type of immigrant; in fact refugees are often illegal immigrants. Jesus was. He and His family left Israel to escape the state, traveling in secret in defiance of King Herod. They slipped into Egypt to escape Herod and slipped back into Palestine when Herod died and was succeeded by his son.
That’s why I find it so strange that so many of the hardliners on illegal immigration come from the social conservative/Christian wing of the party. The immigrants who sneak into this country tend to be overwhelmingly Christian themselves, Roman Catholics from Central and South America. When Pat Buchanan rails about the Death of the West, those are fellow Catholics he’s railing against. When Rick Santorum hammered on the illegal immigrant problem as he did when he got in trouble in his Senate race, or as he did to try to displace Rick Perry as the leading social conservative in the presidential primary, those are his brothers and sisters who he was using as political whipping boys.
It’s probably time for social conservatives like Santorum to ask what really guides their moral code. Is it nostalgia for the world of their youth where all the signs are in English and everybody looks and sounds like you? Or is it the open-society optimism and border-striding dynamism of Jesus and the Torah and lesser lights such as Jefferson and Lincoln? They are not remotely the same thing.
Mr. Bowyer is the author of "The Free Market Capitalists Survival Guide," published by HarperCollins, and a columnist for Forbes.com.