Is worker migration slavery?
That’s a question we must ask ourselves as we consider Federal im-migration policy. It’s one that’s difficult to answer and the answer may be more difficult than the question.
Some time ago, I read a critique of the President’s immigration policy. An accusation was directed at the morality of disallowing migrants to cross borders freely. The premise was that mere prohibition of human migration was anti-Christian.
After that, I listened to a speaker redefine “illegal aliens” as migrants rather than illegals, I found myself in agreement with both of these men on some level. Human migration is a separate issue from citizenship both morally and historically.
Does migrant equal citizen?
Aristotle made a sensible distinction on this matter. In his 3rd volume on Politicia, he wrote:
“we may say, first, that a citizen is not a citizen because he lives in a certain place, for resident aliens and slaves share in the place .”
I agree with Aristotle. It doesn’t follow that merely living in a certain place makes one a citizen. He also made an assumption that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Resident aliens and slaves lived among the citizens. He wrote:
“for resident aliens and slaves share in the place ”.
The present argument concerning illegal immigration and citizenship doesn’t recognize this distinction. Both sides fall for a false dichotomy of their own making. The mere presence of migrants doesn’t necessitate their citizenship nor does it morally require it.
Kingdom vs kingdom
Before any other consideration is made, the Kingdom of God bursting forth on Earth ought to be in view. This particular view that so-called conservatives believe peculiar, ought to be heard by the Church, if she has ears to hear. We ought to expect that aliens live amongst us without assuming that we must make them citizens.
If we examine the question, a disease of the mind of the local body is quickly diagnosed. Many of God’s covenant people, instituted to inhabit localities across the planet, do not act locally. The idea of local mission causes them to quail rather than animate, recoil rather than strike. It’s evident that most local bodies of Christ would rather give thousands of dollars for someone else to evangelize in Romania, Uganda, or Belize, than spend only a moment sharing the hope of Christ with their neighbors. So, we’re left with the government…
Until local churches begin to address the moral concerns of migrant workers, the State will. Who in your congregation is concerned with low wages and harsh living conditions of migrant workers? Which of them have even taken the time to share the promises of Christ with migrants? How is it that many of us take such an unwavering political stand on their presence, yet place no value on the presence of Christ in their community, a community within our own.
Christians ought to consider these things more deeply than they have.
Farmworkers or slaves?
That seems like a harsh distinction. It’s not one to take lightly. It isn’t meant to offend farmers though. Industrial capitalists and sectional politics have continued to create imbalance in trade; they tip the scales in their favor by controlling the banks; they have created Federal policies to hold farmers in check with mandates, subsidies, and regulations; so farmers are forced to perform their jobs on the cheap, only to keep their heads above water. Farmers are not second class citizens and they deserve to make a living and enjoy a profit.
There are just a few ways to turn a profit when you turn the soil for a living. Either raise the price or lower the cost. Given that around 70% of farmworkers in the United States are foreign and the average income is from $12.5k and $15k, it seems production cost has been the easiest to control.
Is this kind of worker migration a form of slavery?
This question may not make any sense to you. “They’re free to move around”, you may say. “They’re getting paid”, might be your complaint. Really? Are those things the essence of slavery?
I contend that most folk have a misunderstanding of what slavery is. The modern historical narrative of slavery in the Antebellum Southern States has tainted most people’s understanding of slavery and poisoned the well of conversations like this.
It’s well documented that although extreme forms of confinement existed along with extreme mistreatment, freedom to travel was granted at times and there was often meager compensation. Even that doesn’t go far enough to open dialogue.
Can we talk?
Often people fear that admitting other forms of slavery exist diminishes the horrific plight of North American Slavery. Unfortunately, these are also the same people who fear that admitting the slave trade was fueled by Massachusetts businessmen and sectional politics, the same kind of sectional politics that exists today.
The fact remains, many forms of slavery have existed and exist in the world. Much of it is not as harsh as what we imagine. Sometimes slavery exists in the peripheral of our cultures. People groups that voluntarily move themselves into positions of difficult labor, harsh living conditions, and wages well below the poverty level is one form of slavery.
Is this a form of slavery we can live with?
With the new sectional tariffs in place, favoring the industrial States, how can agrarians (farming economies) compete? If the price of steel goes up in the Industrial States, will the increase not manifest itself at Kubota? John Deere green may have a different shade that’s not as bright for farmers, if that happens.
If the costs rise for farmers, how will they maintain their profits? The price of steel will drive up the costs of doing business and living. Do they have a right to maintain a profit just as industrial capitalists?
What about farming communities? If wages increase in Detroit, Chicago, and New York, the children and grandchildren of farmers will continue to move to those industrial centers and leave farmers with no help. Is this why the crony-capitalists say that “no American will work those jobs”?
The more things change
These are old arguments, as old as our Republic. Federalism is alive and well here, but the crony-capitalists have duped the rest of us into believing they are the ‘conservatives’ and have our best interests in mind. If you live in rural America, which of you will share in their profits?
Are we willing to live with the consequences of all of this? Is it Christ-like? Can we fit these things into our theology? What ethic will determine the doctrine of local churches in regards to migrants?
As Christians continue to be conscripted into modern “conservatism”, questions like these will begin to dominate us. If we continue to ignore historical views like Jefferson’s political economy which makes more of a man than the dollar he makes, we’ll make men whose only goal is to make a dollar.