I am an immigrant.
When my marriage brought me to the US, I spoke English, I was a PhD candidate, and I was a Christian. On top of all that, I was married to an American. Surely, my integration would be easy. Not so.
Everything was different in the West. I had first noticed it when I moved to England for my studies. Once the novelty of spongy crumpets, warm ales and gorgeous churches wore off, all that remained was a binge-drinking youth and indifferent adults. Nobody cared what anyone else did, and the efforts of the handful of those who helped others went unnoticed. The land of Shakespeare and Tolkien was nothing but a shadow of its glorious past.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Marriage took me even further from my homeland. Americans were easier to converse with, and small talk came more natural. But that indifference towards others and the ever-cherished individualism once again made this new life more isolated than I expected. Even in the Church, conversations and relationships were superficial, and daily busyness got in the way of deep friendships.
After eight years, I am not sure how integrated I am. Sure, my accent is not as thick as before and I probably eat more hamburgers than what is good for me, but a big part of me is still an outsider. What sustained me as an immigrant was not the American culture, but my faith and marriage.
Now, consider being a Muslim who does not speak English. You grew up in a country where women never wore shorts, corruption was rampant and the thought of government paying you money for not working was laughable. Concepts like all men are created equal, freedom of speech, democracy or work ethic are either entirely meaningless or irrelevant.
From the other side of the fence, life in the West looks like paradise. Everyone lives in giant houses, everyone drives fancy cars, and food is plentiful. It is the promised land. But, in order to possess all those, you need to have the skill sets or the education, which would probably afford you a comfortable job in your home country, had you stayed. As a low or no skilled immigrant, however, the grass is not as green as you imagined. More than likely, you are not going to be able to find a lucrative job, especially if you don’t speak the vernacular tongue. You would either have to move to a country where the welfare state is more liberal or fight for the scarce undesirable jobs. Suddenly, neither the big house nor the fancy car is within reach.
On top of the financial concerns, you realize the West is a truly strange place. Around every corner you see drunkenness, debauchery, adultery and foul language. With a religion that sees women as inferior and a worldview that depicts Western countries as colonizers and thieves, the only place you belong is with your own people. Why would you assimilate?
For the more militantly inclined, the West is ripe for the taking. Their immorality is a shame upon Allah. Whereas in the past, the infidels had armies to defend themselves, now their weakness is an open invitation.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nowhere else on Earth I would rather raise my children than America. My sons will learn the importance of human dignity, honest work, and freedom. My daughters will grow up knowing that they are cherished and protected. Everything the West holds in high esteem today can be traced back to Christianity, and everything that is going wrong in the West today is a departure from that Christian heritage. As Christ’s influence leaves, so do all the good things that made the West enviable.
Here is my question, then: Is it merciful to encourage more immigration through an open door policy and through providing limitless government assistance?
The biggest problem with immigration policies is that they only offer bread. But as Christ told Satan in the desert, “One does not live on bread alone.” When we divorce the physical from the spiritual, the result is the hollowed out culture we live in.
When the financial difficulties and the sense of superiority push an immigrant to become permanently dependent on what the states offers, despite being fed, he gets stuck in the fringes. These fringes are not places for anyone to thrive or assimilate. First of all, if there are enough people from the same source country, there is no need to learn the language or to integrate. With government assistance, there is no need to better themselves through education. It becomes a closed system where resentful and demanding immigrants become a permanent underclass. In the end, all the West is able to offer them is earthly bread.
As an immigrant, one is already an outsider. When you cannot find anything in your new country to emulate, then you turn to the familiar, regardless of how misguided and false it might be. When Western societies cannot offer an alternative to the seemingly wholesome culture of Muslim countries with their emphasis on community, modesty, and masculine duty, what used to be moderate back home becomes radicalized in the Western migrant ghettos.
Had they stayed in their country of origin, assuming that their lives were not in danger, there was a greater chance for self-improvement or for political participation (with some notable exceptions). In their Western host countries, neither can they change the political mechanism without citizenship rights, nor is there an incentive to assimilate into the surrounding society.
Unfortunately, many believe that poverty is the cause of all evils. This leads Western countries to assume that as long as immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries are provided for, there is no cause for concern. Theirs is a world without sin, but that is a fictional world.
In the real world of sinful human nature, men will not be pacified with gold, political concessions or promises of freedom and democracy. Since Western Christian societies have lost their zeal for Christ’s Great Commission, there is little hope for internal change, for a radical conversion. These children of God, who have been deprived of the Good News because of our love of political correctness and material comforts, are stuck in a place where there is no hope for spiritual betterment.
As we deprive them of the heavenly bread and the eternal gift, we dangle before their eyes the promise of a prosperous and fulfilled life. The sheer volume of migrants into Europe in recent years will invariably result in the dehumanization and mistreatment of the vulnerable, because no government is equipped to deal with such an influx, either during their initial arrival or when they are resettled. No amount of compassion and wishful thinking is going to change the fact that the future of both the host country and the immigrants look bleak unless Christ is once again the center of Western culture.
St. Peter Claver comes to mind every time I think about immigration. That holy man waited impatiently as slave ships arrived in Columbia. He was impatient to serve these least of his brothers by not only providing what little physical comfort he could offer, but most importantly, by catechizing and sharing the Gospel with them. While we see immigration as a humanitarian problem by merely offering earthly bread, St. Peter Claver baptized over 300,000 souls, thus offering true freedom and happiness, the heavenly treasure. Church leaders and their secular counterparts who comment on immigration policy in the West would do well to remember the life of this saint whose aim was not merely to provide material comfort but to ultimately save souls. It has been awhile since Western governments divorced spiritual needs from the material, leaving not only its citizens but also immigrant communities inherently unsatisfied and underfed.
Therefore, a sensible immigration policy would ensure the welfare and protection of both citizens and potential immigrants. As long as the heavenly bread is withheld by political correctness and by our reluctance to share the good news, whatever material comfort the state offers will be insufficient. We must take immigration out of the realm of humanitarianism and bring it back into the realm of the Great Commission where every immigrant is a soul to be saved.
(Photo credit: Syrian refugees in Budapest, 2015: Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia)