Virginia to Cut Funds for Helping People

Virginia House Bill 2937, passed by the Delegates in Jan., proposes that organizations receiving state or local funding cannot “use those funds to provide benefits or assistance to ineligible persons such as undocumented immigrants”. Nancy Lyall and Teresita Jacinto of the Woodbridge Workers Committee, have published an op-ed in The Washington Post, condemning the bill for its inhumanity, on the basis that children, the sick, and other needy will suffer unduly when homeless shelters, English schools, and church groups cease functioning as they do now.

Charity, particularly religious, obviously has a close history with immigration -- from Emma Lazarus's poem on the Statue of Liberty to the Sanctuary Movement -- which is not surprising, considering its central role in Judeo-Christian scripture. In Mark 25:34-40, the King welcomes into heaven those who helped strangers during their times on earth and damns those who did not. The instruction of the verses is obvious, that we must help “the least of these my brethren”, not only those who mean something to us or have done something for us. This sentiment is an echo from the Torah, which clearly instructs the faithful -- on many occasions -- to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger into our homes because we once were (and could be again) strangers in another land. (Deut. 10:19, “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”) The Bible puts no qualifications on whom to help, and we mortals do not get to judge our fellows' worthiness.

Some ire puffed up recently when someone started a “deport Santa” movement to mock the anti-immigrant law in Hazleton, Pa. What kind of response would a “Jesus was an illegal immigrant” campaign get? The (earthly) reason the son of man entered the world in a manger full of animals instead of a house is that his parents were immigrants -- Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth but were returning to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, to be counted in the Roman census. They were poor, and there was no room at the inn, so the pregnant woman and her husband had to sleep in the manger. These were migrants on the road in need of help -- and look what came from them. (I’m certainly not the first to make this point.)

In a country like ours where a majority of the population claims to follow the mandates of the Bible, one would think such arguments would give rise to according results, that calling on the public’s sense of humanity and charity would lead to the striking down of measures like Virginia House 2937. But, while many people of faith do take up the cause of charity, the assault on unjust immigration legislation hasn’t worked this way. Somehow, advocates just sound like more bleeding-heart, terrorist-loving liberals. History tells us the tactic Lyall and Jacinto use in their piece, harping on the individuals who will suffer from this bill, will prove ineffective.

However, the writers do have several important points buried in their piece and imply another. They mention that denying medical aid to a diabetic now could result in a larger amount of tax money spent later, if the man becomes gravely ill from lack of care. They mention that non-immigrants and legal migrants will suffer from cutting funding to such groups. They also make note of the important point that, "Current federal immigration policy provides no legal avenue for their presence”. (A blow to those who say, “We’d welcome them if they just came legally.")

But the implied point of the piece -- the most important -- is that these measures will not stop people from coming here, with or without documentation. No one crosses the desert on foot because a particular homeless shelter in Virginia has warm coats. In fact, simply by staying here -- and, for those who came that way, by crossing the border -- our undocumented population has already shown a willingness to endure hardships that should assure us that just being meaner to them won’t solve our “problem” of having them here. It just proves us cruel.

Now this is not my call to religion, or even a rank chastisement of the hypocrites of faith (well, maybe a bit). Rather, consider this a plea that, even should many of us not follow these tenets of religion, we should not impede charitable organizations, hospitals, and schools by cutting off their funds on such grounds as those proposed in Virginia's House Bill 2937.

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