Last week we received word from Houston, Texas, that some charitable organizations would screen out the children of undocumented residents of the city when it comes time to distribute toys and other Christmas gifts. You can read the original report published by The Houston Chronicle ( "Some toy drives check immigration status," Nov. 30, 2009, by Jeannie Kever) here.
The original story reported that the Salvation Army and a toy drive associated with the city's fire department would be requiring various forms of identification, including social security cards, birth certificates, and proof of income, to qualify families and children to receive toys and Christmas gifts this year. The report set off reaction from groups working with immigrants in the city.
Last Thursday, the paper published a follow-up story that reported the decision by the Salvation Army not to require social security cards.
"It was never our intention to offend anyone with our registration requirement to provide a Social Security number, or to give the impression that we were discriminating against those individuals and families who do not have a Social Security number," Major Chris Flanagan, Area Commander for The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command, said in a statement.
To read the entire report, click here.
My reading of the stories leads me to believe that the original intention was to eliminate the children of "illegal" immigrants from the Christmas gift program. Thankfully, the organizations involved reconsidered the hurtful policy. As usual when a community rises up and cries out, things change for the better.
Still, the entire affair points up once again the intense hatred and the unapologetic discrimination lurking just beneath the surface of many of our communities that can be so quickly directed toward our immigrant neighbors. Reading the reports and considering the attitudes that informed these policy decisions in the first place, I'm wondering if our faith communities and their leaders don't need to do some work with us on just how God regards the "aliens" and the "strangers" among us.
Clearly, we need to remember and reconsider the clarity of our faith tradition regarding residents from other places, regardless of how they made their way to us. I'm thinking of words like these:
"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt." Exodus 22:21
"Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." Exodus 23:9
"The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:34
"And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:19
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in ...." Matthew 25:35
In view of the clarity of our faith traditions, I'd say we need to reflect clearly and carefully on our attitudes and our actions. Maybe it's just me, but this seems especially true during the Advent waiting as we consider the arrival of the Child who, himself an immigrant in more ways than one, comes to set us free.
Larry James is president and CEO of Central Dallas Ministries.