Editor’s note: This article was first published in February 2013 but its relevance continues….

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the likelihood that we might see some success on immigration reform (once again). A bipartisan group of senators has put forth a proposal that President Obama appears to support.

The proposed legislation creates a path for millions of immigrants to seek United States citizenship. There is an interesting and much debated aspect of the proposal which calls for an evaluation of our border to ensure that it’s adequately protected. There are a number of forces – often pushing against one another – which are at play in whether this bill will pass and what actually will be in it.

My point here is not to outline the provisions of the bill nor to list all of the forces trying to impact it. Rather, I’d like to look at the debate through a spiritual lens. What do I mean by that?

Let’s acknowledge that we all have our own beliefs when it comes to religion and spirituality.

Some people have adopted a more traditional viewpoint on religion. For them, God is an external being or force and the religious rules of their faith serves as the map to connecting with God. Any organization that goes with that faith serves as its intermediary on that path.

Some people have come to see religion, spirituality and a belief in God as evidence of irrational thinking. They see them as myths handed down from ages long past. There is only a belief in rational thought and the power of science.

Some people have come to see the limits of science to explain all of life but cannot go back to the dogmatic beliefs of traditional religion. For them, there is no intermediary needed for us to taste spirituality. God, the divine or spirit – or whatever word you wish to use for this power and intelligence – is within each and every person. The key is to quit looking for an external God and to realize that God is in yourself and everyone you meet.

One who begins to experience life through this type of spiritual lens starts to realize that we are interconnected to every other person. Our success and their success are interwoven. Political boundaries are seen as man-made constructs – serving usefulness in some cases such as creating the organization of areas for the delivery of social services – but can also have a negative impact such as when they create false barriers between ourselves and other humans.

One social psychological theory that I always find helpful (and frequently reference here) is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. All humans have the same needs. We first need to meet basic physiological needs. Meeting those, we can focus on safety and security needs and then love and belongingness needs and then self-esteem needs as we move up the hierarchy. Maslow’s highest levels were self-actualization and self transcendence. My point in referencing Maslow is that if where we live we do not have the opportunity to meet our needs and move up in life, then sometimes we are best served to move to a new locale.

Right out of college my good friend Brad “immigrated” from Tuscaloosa to Florence in northern Alabama. He had a family and needed a job. He also had a degree in journalism and wanted to work for a newspaper. He had to immigrate across county borders to meet not only safety and security needs but self-esteem needs as well.

A number of years later, I recognized that it was going to be more advantageous to live in Colorado than in Alabama. I felt there were more opportunities for me in my career. I felt that ultimately my growing children would be better served in the new locale. I was driven by the needs for safety and security, self-esteem and ultimately self-actualization. We immigrated across state lines.

This might sound funny to you – describing immigration in terms of moving from one county to another or from one state to another. But ultimately what are we doing? We are simply moving from one locale to another and coincidentally crossing over one of those man-made political boundaries. We just happen to have agreed that moving among cities, counties and states within the United States for the purposes of meeting our needs at a better level is acceptable while moving across the country border is not.

But wait, you say, we have to have some sort of “control of our borders”. After all, we Americans pay taxes to the United States government – we pay for the social services we receive. It’s not fair for others to come here and receive them for free. And, these are “our jobs” that these outsiders are taking. It’s “our businesses” who are paying taxes and the jobs they create should go to Americans!

This all may be true if we look at ourselves being separate and apart from the people who migrate here. If we see ourselves as individual people who are in competition with one another for scarce resources, then it’s only natural that our survival instinct would kick in.

However if we put our spiritual lens on (using the viewpoint that we are all interconnected spiritual beings), then we open our hearts in compassion to those who felt they had to come here to take the next step in meeting their needs.

From this vantage point, we want everyone to meet their needs. In fact, we want to encourage the up leveling of all places on planet Earth so that no matter where anyone lives they feel they can meet their desires and grow into meeting their highest needs. We should have a common goal to see every other person experience self-actualization.

From this vantage point, we question whether the best use of our resources is to build walls and fences to keep people out of “our country”. Rather, we realize that a better tactic would be to use those resources to improve the quality of life where they are in their own country so that the belief in the necessity to relocate is reduced.

From this vantage point, we realize that even if people relocate here to the United States, we should treat them with dignity and respect. Oftentimes those who migrate here perform the work that most of us don’t want to do. Frequently this work involves low pay and unfavorable conditions. The businesses with the poor conditions and pay feel that improving conditions or pay would raise their cost and make their products (which we buy) less competitive. In a continuous cycle, we buy the cheap products from these companies reinforcing their belief that they have to not raise their costs which leads to keeping their pay low and their conditions poor – maintaining the low quality of jobs that most of us still won’t take! And then we complain that these outsiders are taking our jobs. There is some irony there.

The bottom line in my view on the immigration debate when I put on my “spiritual lens” is this – the real issue is not about building walls between people but breaking down barriers that keep people from living their highest possibilities. It’s not about retreating into survival mode in competition with others but rather lifting everyone up into the mode of thriving. When we get that – really and truly get it – and act upon that belief, then we will transcend any so-called “immigration debate”. There will be nothing to debate, only an expanded sense of care and concern for our fellow spiritual travelers.

Mark Gilbert


Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!