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Condoleezza Rice Is Right About Immigration, And the Nostalgists Are Wrong

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Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ...Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waves to the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, on August 29, 2012 during the Republican National Convention (RNC). (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

On Wednesday evening former Secretary of State Condi Rice picked a fight with a large and vocal section of the Republican base, and I’m glad she did. This confrontation is long overdue. Zero-tolerance law-and-order rhetoric about the immigration issue has become the standard for talk radio and other conservative circles, and I think that this fact puts much of the conservative movement at odds with two of its most important foundations: a view of compassion derived from the Biblical tradition, and a commitment to economic freedom and limited government as an optimistic upward path to prosperity.

Here’s what she said:

“More than at any other time in history, greatness is built on mobilizing human potential and ambition. We have always done that better than any country in the world. People have come here from all over because they have believed our creed of opportunity and limitless horizons.

They have come here from the world’s most impoverished nations just to make a decent wage. And they have come here from advanced societies as engineers and scientists that fuel the knowledge-based revolution in the Silicon Valley of California, in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, along Route 128 in Massachusetts, in Austin, Texas, and across this great land.

We must continue to welcome the world’s most ambitious people to be a part of us. In that way, we stay young and optimistic and determined. We need immigration laws that protect our borders, meet our economic needs, and yet show that we are a compassionate nation of immigrants.”

Read more here.

Let’s start with the Biblical compassion part of this. If there is one thing which is made absolutely crystal clear in the Bible in terms of political issues, it is the absolute mandate of compassion towards immigrants. One can argue about whether the Bible does or does not permit abortion. I would argue that it does not, but those arguments are inferential. Arguments about monogamy are also inferential, though I think persuasive. But the commands about immigrants are direct and crystal clear.

Deuteronomy. 10

18 “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.

19 “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

The argument that Israel had once been aliens makes many appearances in the Torah and elsewhere in the Tanakh. The Hebrew word for alien, גּור , is used 17 times in Deuteronomy, 10 times in Leviticus, 9 times in Numbers and 5 times in Exodus. Almost every reference is some sort of exhortation to treat the alien with justice or compassion, sometimes in general terms, but often granting specific legal rights. For example, in contrast with much talk radio handwringing about immigrant (illegal or otherwise) consumption of American resources, the alien is specifically included in various aspects of Israel’s public welfare system. For example the gleaning system by which farmers in Israel were forbidden to reap to the edge of their fields is mentioned by name as to be preserved for the benefit of the needy among the Jewish community AND the alien.

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