Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Ethics of Today's Underground Railroad

34Image result for vive house buffalo

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus  19:34

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, Matthew 25:35

There has been so much in the news about refugees and undocumented immigrants making their way across the Canadian border in the cold of Winter, seeking asylum.

Not long ago I heard about a house in Buffalo New York which has become a safe haven for  immigrants hoping to leave the United States for the safe haven of Canada --or so they hope. The house, called Vive, occupies a former schoolnext door to an abandoned church with boarded-up windows. More than a quarter of the nearby properties are vacant “zombie homes,” and the area contains some of the cheapest real estate in America. According to the New Yorker article about this safe house " residents rarely venture into the neighborhood. A staff member told me, “Agents from the Border Patrol circle the building all the time.” So far, the schoolhouse has not yet been subjected to a raid, which would require a warrant."

The Canadian border is only seven kilometres away, so Vive has become the modern version of the Underground Railroad. As is so often the case with refugee organizations, Vive had its origins with a religious group, founded by nuns more thirty years ago, although the staff is now mostly secular. Remarkably,more than a hundred thousand refugees, from about a hundred countries, have passed through. In an earlier era Harriet Tubman, herself a former slave, led groups of fugitive slaves across a suspension bridge that spanned the gorge. Allegedly, some slaves braved the rapids of the Niagara River, swimming to the other side.

We probably agree that there needs to be a process for immigration into this country which is orderly and doesn't encourage queue-jumping. At the same time people are afraid and desperate because of the changes to laws and attitudes in the United States and other countries  of the world. The sense is that when the weather warms (it will warm, won't it?) the flow of asylum seekers will probably increase.

Will our welcome for refugees and immigrants wear thin if the numbers jump dramatically? What is your reaction to the existence of Vive, and shelters like it? Are we more comfortable with the Underground Railroad as a historical footnote than a present reality? What is the role of Christians in "welcoming the foreigner?" I think we're given a fairly clear picture by Jesus.

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