Plenty Of Room In NEPA

April 13, 2019 GMT

During his recent trip to Calexico, California, President Donald Trump, addressing prospective immigrants, said, “we can’t take you anymore. Our country is full.” We faith leaders, who not only live in Northeast Pennsylvania but love it, say loudly and clearly: We are not full here. Right here, wave after wave of immigrants built up our community and shaped its institutions, businesses and houses of worship. Yet, anyone in our area with open eyes and an open mind surely has noticed how many storefronts and office buildings sit empty from Scranton to Stroudsburg or Honesdale to Hazleton. How many schools have closed, how many congregations have shut their doors for the last time? Our area needs more immigration, not less. We should put out welcome mats, not build walls. Too many people have stoked fear of immigrants, speaking of drugs, gangs, rapists and loss of jobs. But immigration facts tell a completely different story. Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born U.S. citizens. Counties that welcome immigrants have less crime than those that shun them. Immigrants arrive with roughly the same level of education as the native born, and their children soon surpass that. Taken as a whole, immigrants actually create jobs. In fact, first-generation Americans play a critical role in the innovation economy. Undocumented immigrants contribute billions more in payroll taxes than they use in government services. Fanning such xenophobic fears is not just inaccurate; it actually harms our entire nation. It reinforces a false narrative that some people are “real” Americans, while others — including some whose families have been citizens for many generations —should “go back.” Or worse yet, they should be wiped out. This white supremacist outlook led to the murderous rampage in 2015 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Anger that Jewish organizations have aided refugees fleeing for their lives played a key role in the deadly attack at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue in October. Ask yourself, why have the people of Puerto Rico, all American citizens, been denied funds to alleviate the suffering caused by Hurricane María? Recognize that, while the most recent xenophobic, anti-Muslim massacre occurred in New Zealand, it, too, was fueled by fear and hatred of immigrants and was designed to “send a message” to anti-immigrant extremists in our country. As faith leaders, our fundamental objection is that anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are immoral. They go against some of the most basic teachings of our faiths: God’s commandments to protect the stranger, to love the immigrant, are the most frequently repeated ones in the whole Torah. Jews around the world will recite again this coming Passover (Exodus 22:20): “You shall not wrong immigrants or oppress them, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” During Holy Week, on Holy Thursday, Christians are reminded of Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you,” including (Matthew 25:40) “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.” Muslims soon will fast during the month of Ramadan, bodily experiencing solidarity with the poor, feeling a portion of their suffering. They are responsible to give alms during this month to those who are stranded and struggling, including refugees. The Quran (Surah Al-Hashr: 9) praises those who “love those who flee to them in refuge and find not any want in their hearts of what the immigrants were given, giving [refugees] preference over themselves, even though they themselves are in need. “ Baha’ullah, founder of the Baha’i faith, taught “Blessed and happy is one who arises to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth.” Rabbis Daniel Swartz and Marjorie Berman just finished the sixth Scranton Half-Marathon. They traveled through the many wonderful immigrant neighborhoods of Scranton, old and new, and saw hundreds of diverse residents of NEPA come together for a common purpose. Everywhere, residents came out to cheer all the participants. So, too, can we all, with hearts full of hope, faith and love, welcome countless streams of people to our area, with plenty of room to spare. Working together, we can open new businesses, rebuild vacant neighborhoods, revitalize congregations and shape a better life for all.