June 14, 2010
This is not the book for those seeking a dispassionate political analysis of the U.S. immigration system. A Presbyterian minister in San Jose, Calif., Daniel offers an unequivocal pastoral welcome to all immigrants, legal and illegal, rather than nuanced policy solution to the crisis. Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic church members open to working with immigrants but seeking a more in-depth biblical and theological rationale for their outreach efforts will appreciate this slim volume. A clear writer with a flair for journalism, Daniel goes beyond the spiritual arguments calling Christians to welcome the stranger, and takes to the road--interviewing a California Democratic congresswoman and a U.S. district judge from New Mexico along the way. A fluent Spanish speaker who has been on the front lines of the immigration issue since he was a teen, Daniel is fully invested in helping Hispanics find a future of life, liberty, and happiness on both sides of the border. With the passage of a tough, anti-immigrant law in Arizona, this volume may strike a resonant note among people previously unmotivated to protest the issue.
“Who is my neighbor?” This is a key question for Christians, and is the foundation of one of Jesus’ most well-known parables: that of the Good Samaritan. The question is also the impetus for Ben Daniel’s Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration, in which the author explores the attitude and actions Christians should espouse towards illegal immigrants, particularly those that cross the southern border of the United States. Mr. Daniel has become deeply knowledgeable about immigrant issues as a result of research, interviews, and his vocation. He is a pastor at a Northern California Congregational Church, which boasts a multitude of immigrant congregants. In addition, he cares for three immigrant children. In short, he is well prepared to offer a well-rounded analysis of the issues surrounding immigration.
The book is organized into three sections. Part I makes the case that Christians’ lives are implicitly tied to those of immigrants. Mr. Daniel presents illegal immigrants as co-pilgrims on a spiritual journey, and points to biblical and church history, which portray the faithful as aliens in a foreign land. He also addresses the Christian’s responsibility to critically think about the justice of current immigration law. The second section serves up an eye-opening historical and political journey through the twists and turns of US immigration law. The book ends with stories of individuals and organizations that are helping illegal immigrants find legal, economic, and educational justice at home and abroad.
One of the strongest aspects of the book is the honesty and intimacy with which Mr. Daniel presents the stories of his interviewees. Whether it be a federal judge who deports hundreds of immigrants each month, or a mother of three who is waiting for immigration reform while living in sanctuary at a church, each character is real and complex. Although the book would benefit from hearing from a border patrol agent, a key persona in the immigration drama, the stories included are compelling.
Mr. Daniel is successful in his purpose; he aims to not only open the Christian reader’s mind to the plight of the immigrant, but also to open the reader’s heart to the immigrant herself. In a context in which immigrant issues are hotly debated on a macro level, it is refreshing to hear a voice that examines the historical and political conundrums of illegal immigration through the lens of human dignity and a practical love for others who are, in fact, our neighbors.