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Title 42 and Biblical Exodus in the Modern Context

Title 42 has dominated the news cycles in the United States and the Americas these past few days in anticipation of the lifting of a U.S. health law that then President Donald Trump invoked to achieve its long-desired goal of shutting down the southern border to asylum seekers. Under a little-known provision of the U.S. Public Health Law, the Trump and the Biden administrations were able to expel millions in the guise of the pandemic.

Thousands of asylum seekers from Latin America who were stranded in Mexican because of Title 42, have crossed the Rio Grande River and lined the U.S.-Mexican border to continue their journey to the land of promise. Alas, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened and paused the expiring law while it reviewed petitions from Republican-led states who wanted to let said immigration law in place while their legal challenges played out in court.

The U.S./Mexican border situation is not the only immigration related event that’s taking place around the world. Foremost is the Russian invasion of Ukraine that displaced millions of Ukrainians into refugees’ status. Ukrainian refugees have easily made their way into multiple European countries, including the United States who granted them immediate asylum status.

The U.S. visa program for Afghan refugees is about to expire as well but there is movement in the U.S. Congress to address the situation. Otherwise, many of them will face deportation. Meanwhile, the Taliban oppression continues in Afghanistan with many who initially wanted out when the U.S. military pulled out earlier this year, remained in the country.

When Donald Trump campaigned for the U.S. presidency back in 2015, he said loudly that “the Mexicans were taking our jobs and millions were crossing the border illegally. His signature promises of building the “most beautiful” border became the staple of his speeches to fan hate among his MAGA supporters when he became president.

Exodus 1:8-9 talks about a new king “who knew nothing of Joseph, rose to power in Egypt,” who instilled nationalist fear among Egyptians. “See! The Israelite people (who made Egypt their home) have multiplied and become more numerous than we are!” (Do we hear the White Supremacists cry?) The new sheriff (king) in town addressed the “threat” by making the minority population slaves. The Israelites were forced to do long hours of hard labor, no pay, and with no benefits.

What these passages remind me of is the rise to power of Donald Trump, and the borrowed labor from Mexican migrant workers who “took away” American jobs in farmlands and toiled back-breaking jobs, hard labor with minimal pay and benefits. They’re continually vilified as illegals (undocumented) who have “no right to be here.” Let’s step back for a moment and add some Old Testament (OT) and historical context into this whole exodus ordeal.

The story of Exodus in OT is about Israel’s mass migration from Egypt and deliverance from slavery. It is a worldly view of what the promised land was all about – political and military power. From Abraham to Moses, God’s promise was not delivered until Joshua led his people across the Jordan River and to Canaan – the Promised Land.

Back then, there were no immigration hassles that got in the way, no concrete borders or wire fencing to cross – just the river. Unlike Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, Joshua’s job was easier because the Jordan River was dry. It is, however, the Jew’s yearning to be free, an edict that is relevant today in Ukraine, Palestine, Afghanistan, United States, the Philippines, Latin America, among other nations similarly situated where mass migration is taking place.

In the Philippine context, the Filipino people have been wandering in the desert for over 500 years and still waiting to be free from the effects of centuries of foreign domination. Yes, the Philippines is a democratic country, but it is the very same democracy that enslaves its people into the clutches of capitalism that leaves over 80% of its population living in poverty, some in extreme.

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have joined the exodus to foreign lands for a better future as domestic helpers and professionals as their own country cannot offer them jobs. Overseas contract workers are modern day heroes because their dollar remittances help keep the Philippine economy afloat, but at the great expenses of family separation.

The future of Title 42 (and the future of asylum seekers from Latin America) hangs in the balance while the U.S. Supreme Court studies the case. The morality of Exodus in the Old Testament is about giving justice to the weak and the poor. Where do we see it in these situations? The universal question then for the oppressed but courageous is, where are they trying to go? And how long will it take them to get there?

While the biblical Exodus seems like a one-time event as part of ancient history, the situation around the world of slavery, injustice, violence against humanity tells us that this is really an ongoing experience for many cultures. It evokes feelings of helplessness, repulsion and yet, determination for those trying to escape their country’s miseries.

Joshua 1:1-9 became the basis for Joshua to claim God’s promise to the Israelites by taking over Canaan. But in the process, they had to kill the Canaanites to possess their lands. When the first European settlers arrived in America, they seemed to have followed a similar divine advice of killing the natives to be able to possess their land, and later included those lands governed under New Spain based in Mexico.

According to the Treaty of Guadalupe, Mexico ceded 10 states to the United States as spoils of the war (plus 15 million dollars) between the two countries. The package included what Mexicans call their original lands: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

When the world was created, Genesis in the bible meant planet earth – not just the Middle East. When we look back in history, many stories of slavery, injustice, and eventual exodus of people had occurred similar to the experiences of the people of Israel. Why can’t other countries claim for themselves their promised lands? These migrants along the border have crossed the Rio Grande in pursuit of a better life in states that once belonged to their ancestors who were colonized by foreign powers.

The biblical Exodus is God’s self-revelation in faithfulness, grace and power over false gods of the world. God promised to be with his chosen people and that includes everyone. People of the world can’t be less (than Israel) in the eyes of the Maker because we were all created equal and to His likeness. False gods who use their powers to oppress people will have their day in judgment. “Be courageous, be strong,” God’s command to Joshua and his people should echo along the border.


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