As I reflected upon Herman Cain's notion that we build electric fences at the border which would actually kill any who tried to cross them, I was quite saddened by the fact that a person would advocate such a remedy for our border problems. But, what saddened me even more was the amazing number of people who agreed with him and felt that he might be onto a solution to our problem with undocumented folks arriving in our country.
First of all, it is very important to realize that this issue of undocumented Mexicans is not as simple as merely finding a way to stop them from coming here. It might help us to ponder what is making them want to leave their country in the first place. And along with this we might need to consider all of the ways that our country has encouraged them through our complicity in seeking them and hiring them to do work that we want to have done as cheaply as possible. Thus we need to look at how our greed has contributed to the situation. What is our government doing at present and what has been done in the past to assist with changing their economic situation? This is a very complicated matter and when someone talks about it as if it is not, then the conversation is quite counter-productive in terms of moving toward a better understanding and finding solutions that can help us to maintain our integrity and the dignity of the folks that we are trying to manage.
Among the complicating factors that we see in this matter of undocumented Mexicans is our fear and the projections that we are making onto them as the "other." I find this fact particularly interesting when I hear other people of color who have a history of oppression finding it so unthinkable to be compassionate and interested in seeking humane solutions to this difficult situation.
There is a wonderful story in Luke about Jesus's healing of the blind man sitting on the Jericho roadside who cried out to him, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me," (Luke 18:38 RSV). A few verses later, after Jesus has questioned him about what he wishes from him, Jesus proclaims, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well," (Luke 18:42 RSV). We could use some help in overcoming the blindness that we have in this situation because we have allowed our fear and projections of Mexicans to become a blinding force in our communities and it is leading us to behavior that is shameful and certainly is not representative of the values that we like to imagine ourselves holding.
In the communities of faith across America we should be working together and standing up for our sisters and brothers who are the recipients of any inhumane attitudes and practices. But we cannot do it, unless we have faith enough to allow God to give us sight to see across the borders of our inner fears and the prejudice that is created by that fear. As an African American, I can hardly believe the attitude that I encounter from African Americans, such as Herman Cain's, about Mexicans in particular and Latinos in general. The outrage that is exhibited can only be explained in terms of fear. It was a similar system that was able to fuel the violent outrage toward African Americans for decades and that led to so many outrageous acts of violence against us. This violence which was exhibited through lynching and often mutilation of black men, talked about eloquently and passionately by James Cone in his new book, "The Cross And The Lynching Tree" came out of the same type of fear-based analyses that we are witnessing now in regards to Latinos. While the lynchings of the past were not about symbolism at all, there are many ways to lynch people and we need to be careful in our condoning of any behavior that reminds of those past acts of terror that were practiced against the innocent and unprotected.
While it is clear to me that we have to address the issues of immigration and the undocumented in our country, we need to be careful that we remember that everyone is God's child whether we like that fact or not and whether we like them or not. If more of us can allow our eyes to be opened to the inner monuments that we have built on the bases of fear and seek ways to cross over them and to dismantle them, we might begin to see our way toward solutions that are rooted in compassion and respect for everyone and that can be life giving. Our faith can make us well if we will allow it. Otherwise we stay held in the throes of the disease of fear and the hatred that it breeds where no real insight is possible and only violence can be born. We have done this too many times before and it would be wonderful to see us handle the immigration issue better.