I published a version of this post on welcoming the foreigner earlier this year and it feels as relevant now as it did then.
“ ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Leviticus 19:33-34
When I was in seminary, I translated the above passage as part of my Hebrew class. The scripture caught my attention not only because it took me hours to translate it but also because it specifically addressed the issue of how we are to treat people who are not native to a specific geographic location. It is a direct command to treat those from other lands as we would those who are native and to “love them as yourself.” The final sentence also puts into context that such treatment is warranted because those who are now “native” were once foreigners.
This idea seems so simple, much like the Golden Rule to love another as yourself. However, it may be simple but it is not easy to put these words into action. It is fascinating to me that one of the groups who put this into practice but who knew nothing about the Hebrew Bible were Native Americans who welcomed newcomers from foreign lands only to be mistreated and forced off land on which they had lived for many years. Many who came and made important contributions to this country were either forced to come here or came in search of a better life. However, not all who came were treated with love and respect. The internment of Japanese citizens during World War II is one example.
We see the United States’s dark immigration history of discriminatory exclusion of racial, ethnic and religious minorities playing out now. Although this is a country where the vast majority of people either emigrated or family members emigrated to the United State from another country, the welcome and acceptance described in Leviticus is ignored. Those who would come here fleeing conflict and suffering for a better life are now being told they are not welcome.
Fear is often the reason for exclusionary immigration policies. While safety is important, the underlying fear that accompanies a need for safety is not a valid reason for failing to treat one another with love and respect. For those who make decisions from a place of love and compassion rather than fear, it is imperative to resist being gripped by a fear that denies the worth and value of all human beings. That is the message of Leviticus. We are to treat each other with love and respect regardless of whether we were born in this country or not. Anything less is inhumane and unjust because none of us is truly a foreigner.