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Guest Column: Mary and Joseph Were "Undocumented"

As a Christian and a lawmaker, biblical stories form something of a lens through which I try to find focus when making public policy decisions — particularly as anti-immigrant bills have gained a disturbing momentum in Austin over the last few weeks.

Texas Senator Eddie Lucio

In Matthew Chapter 2, Jesus' family was forced to flee from Herod, who had ordered that all the baby boys in their hometown be murdered. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt, where they were probably regarded as asylum seekers or illegal immigrants. Either way, these strangers struggling to get by in a foreign land could certainly be called "undocumented workers."

As a Christian and a lawmaker, biblical stories like these form something of a lens through which I try to find focus when making public policy decisions. That story has become important to me as anti-immigrant bills and sentiment have gained a disturbing momentum in Austin over the last few weeks.

I am grateful for some of my colleagues who have already been leading the charge. They have wisely argued that anti-immigrant measures would affect minority residents and citizens, instill a lack of trust between local police and minority communities, prevent sheriffs from being able to rein in rogue officers and — as the Texas Association of Business has argued — hurt the economy.

All those arguments are compelling, but I don’t want us to forget that Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws are first and foremost immoral.

Last week, I debated one of my colleagues, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, about an amendment to SB 1581 that would have required undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition rates at Texas universities. As much as I respect Sen. Birdwell, I think amendments like this one are just plain mean. As Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, argued, many of these students did not choose to illegally immigrate to the United States. Instead, they have found themselves caught between the decisions of their parents (who have few choices) and the decisions of lawmakers (who should know better).

During our debate, I shared with Sen. Birdwell several passages I thought were relevant to our discussion:

"And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him." (Leviticus 19:33)

"You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country." (Leviticus 24:22)

In fact, parts of the law that Moses gave to the ancient Israelites go even further: "The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself." (Leviticus 19:34) Luckily for Moses, he was not running for reelection.

I don’t claim to be a biblical scholar, and politicians must be careful not to use the Bible in a way that implies they have a monopoly on the truth. However, I think these verses have rather obvious implications for both the tone and content of immigration policy. In addition, I wonder how Joseph and Mary would have felt struggling in Egypt as undocumented workers if Pharaoh had decreed a law similar to some of those found in the Texas Legislature this session.

Many families in Texas are complicated. A father might be undocumented while a mother is not. Sometimes the parents are residents but the children are citizens. Many undocumented people are hardworking taxpayers simply doing what they think is best for their loved ones — their ultimate dream is to become a United States citizen. Many want to serve in our military forces. Anti-immigrant statutes don’t reflect these realities.

As the end of the legislative session draws near, I implore my colleagues to graft a compassionate moralism into our debate about immigration bills. I am saddened that some of the most vocally Christian lawmakers are also some of the most ardent supporters of anti-immigrant laws. I wonder what they make of those verses from Leviticus? When it comes to the Bible's call for a compassionate immigration policy, they cannot exercise a line-item veto.

Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, represents Senate District 27.

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