Open season. The date’s on the calendar. Weapons are brought out of storage and cleaned to get ready for the big day. Only this isn’t the fall ritual at our house every November at the start of deer hunting season. It’s ancient Persia. And the open season isn’t on deer or elk, it’s on a race of people--foreigners, who’d been brought to the country against their will years ago. They’re being targeted because they’re different; they don’t fit in with the rest of Persian society.About 473 BC, King Xerxes of Persia signed a decree authorizing the wholesale destruction of the Jews in Persia. On a single day, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, Persians were authorized to “kill, annihilate, and destroy [their Jewish neighbors]--young and old, women and children-- …and to plunder their goods (Esther 3:13).” But King Xerxes—who’d been put up to the project by a conniving official—didn’t realize that his own queen was one of those Jews.
The Book of Esther in the Bible tells how Queen Esther’s uncle beseeches her to go to the king to stop the sinister plot, at risk of her own life. He is confident that help will come for the Jews, but warns Esther that if she keeps silent in her royal palace at this time, she may not survive. He reminds her, “It could be that you have come to royal position for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).”
We Americans often forget that we are in “royal position” globally. We have access to education, public safety, warm homes, health care, plenty to eat, and cars, unlike much of the rest of the world. But more importantly, we, like Queen Esther, have a voice in our government. We can call our congressmen and our representatives. We can vote. It does cost us, not a risk of death as for Queen Esther—just a little time.
With all the intrigue of a summer novella, the Book of Esther describes how Queen Esther agrees to fast and pray before entering unbidden into the king’s presence. Xerxes extends his scepter towards her, sparing her life, and offers to grant her petition and request, whatever it may be, up to half his kingdom. Twice she puts him off, inviting him to a banquet along with Haman, the king’s official who had authored the murderous decree.
Finally, after finishing a second banquet in Queen Esther’s chamber, the king again offers to grant her request, up to half his kingdom. This time Esther answers him, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request (Esther 7: 3).” The Queen of Persia takes upon herself the identity of a foreigner, without power or voice, and pleads with the king as if she had been personally targeted. She tells him, “I and my people have been sold to be killed, annihilated, and destroyed (Esther 7:4a).” The king’s eyes are opened. Jews are no longer unknown, expendable foreigners. They are worthy of and in need of his protection.
My great great grandparents left Russia in the 1870’s as political unrest and violence began to stir, which eventually culminated in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The legal requirements for immigration at that time were simple—after five years of living and working in the United States, my great-great grandparents were eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. These are my people. I am a child of immigrants, who came to this nation for a chance to survive. I am a U.S. citizen today because of their courage. They did not break the law to bring their families here; there was no law to break at that time. If there had been, would they have broken it? And if not, would I even be alive today, given the millions who were killed in Russia after my ancestors escaped?
We are all descendants of immigrants or refugees (barring perhaps some Native Americans). God’s direct instruction to the Israelites as recorded in Leviticus 19:33-34 applies equally to us as Americans: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat him. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” God commands us to take on the identity of a foreigner.
March 5, 2018 is the date set by President Trump in September 2017 to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection for 800,000 undocumented children brought into the United States by their parents, often fleeing places of violence and unrest. They have attended our schools, learned our language and customs, graduated from college, been employed, paid taxes, and served in our military. If not for a recent court order temporarily blocking the decision, March 5 would have opened the doors for massive deportation.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments about this action as soon as April. If Congress fails to act before then, hundreds of thousands of immigrant children not so different from me may be subject to forcible deportation.
Like Queen Esther, we have a voice in our government. The branch of government responsible to set immigration law, Congress, is most accessible to each of us—a toll-free phone call away. We are immigrants, in royal position. Will we use it, for such a time as this?
I hope that our national leaders will see a clear way to reverse the decision to end DACA protection, and to create path to citizenship for these children, not just for their sake, but for our sake as a nation. As one who fears God, I believe that our national security and economic prosperity depend on our morality, righteousness, and justice.