I wrote this blog on immigration reform at the beginning of 2014. Due to recent events, as well as controversial platforms and comments from politicians such as Donald Trump, I thought this post would be worth revisiting. Please note that I am not arguing that Christians support any specific policy, but that Christians carry a certain attitude toward immigration and immigrants.
Liliana Ramos, a single mother of three children (all of which are natural-born US citizens), was deported back to her home country of Mexico in 2011. On January 19 of that year, while leaving her workplace for her lunch break, she was approached by two unmarked, white Suburbans, flashing police lights and all. As the Suburbans pulled up, their riders approached Liliana and asked her if she was, in fact, Liliana Ramos.
After confirming her identity, the mysterious Suburban-goers identified themselves as immigration police. They were there to apprehend Liliana and hold her in custody as an illegal immigrant. This would eventually lead to Lilana's deportation to her home country of Mexico.
Liliana said she was “paralyzed.” She understood it was against the law to live in the United States without documentation, but she had tried to lead a good and peaceful life since her arrival to the United States twenty years prior, having immigrated as a teenager with her parents. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement explained to Liliana that she had three months to sell her things, gather her children, and leave the country. Not wanting to subject her children to a life of suffering, she decided to leave her children in the United States. She now lives in the border town of Tijuana, Mexico, making it is easier for her US-born children to visit.
Liliana’s children suffer knowing that they cannot be with their mother. Brian, her oldest son, has set a goal to someday reunite their family. Unfortunately, seeing this come to fruition is not likely, unless Congress reforms policy to allow citizenship for Liliana’s family, and for countless other families that find themselves in the same situation.
Politicians continue to promise that this issue will be addressed. Yet, there is much debate on how best to handle immigration, and public skepticism that the issue will be fairly addressed. One thing is for sure: Christians cannot ignore this issue. In fact, Christians should actively and publicly fight for immigration reform, and fight for a clear path to citizenship for at least three reasons.
1. Because God commands us to treat the foreigner as native-born
As God prepared the nation of Israel to enter the Promised Land, he gave them this instruction: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 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” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
God’s expectations of his people could not be made more explicit: his people are to welcome outsiders into their community because God’s people know what it’s like to be outsiders. While contemporary American Christians live in a different context from that of ancient theocratic Israel, the command applies as much in our context as it did in theirs. Scripture reveals that all Christians have an Egypt experience, as we are all “foreigners and exiles,” currently living in a world that is not our home. This should give Christians a unique empathy and concern for those who, like us, now find themselves in a country and a culture not their own.
@@God´s people are to welcome outsiders because they were once outsiders@@
Notice that God doesn’t merely command us to not mistreat the foreigner among you. Certainly, one could obey that command with or without broad immigration reform. God also says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (emphasis mine). This means that the same rights, privileges, and comforts that belong to those who are native-born should be extended to those who have immigrated here. This is far from the reality in the United States, at present.
2. Because Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Immigrant
As the eternal Son of God, Jesus voluntarily clothed himself in human flesh, left his heavenly home, left the presence of the Father he had been united to for all eternity, and entered into a culture that was foreign to him, in order to serve a people who did not accept him. Christians should be among those who are most sensitive to the immigrants' situation because Christians worship an immigrant as Lord.
@@Christians should lead in immigration reform because Christians worship an immigrant as Lord@@
Jesus makes a similar connection in Matthew 25:34-40. He tells us that whenever we welcome a stranger, we, in fact, welcome Jesus. He anticipates that this will confuse his followers as they will wonder how the one can equal the other. So he explains, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Christians should pursue a just and compassionate immigration policy, for when we welcome strangers, we welcome Jesus himself – the True and Perfect Immigrant.
3. Because Our First Allegiance is to the Family of God
Many want to place limits on immigration reform based on the fear of an imminent damaged economy or compromised national security. Even if such concerns were factually justified, they would not justify the resistance Christians have to immigration reform. While Christians are certainly called by God to be faithful and obedient citizens of their respective nations, they are also called to pledge their first allegiance to the family of God (Galatians 3:28).
A recent Pew Research study reveals that 83% of undocumented immigrants self-identify as Christians. This is a higher percentage of Christians than that of the US population as a whole. As Christians, we are to be concerned about the well-being of all people. But we are to be especially concerned about the well-being of the Church. The Apostle Paul urges, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10, emphasis mine).
The man who is being held in a detention center without cause, without communication with his family, and without a trial? He’s our brother.
The woman who cannot call upon the police to protect her for fear of deportation; who cannot report abusive treatment from her employer because she is undocumented? She’s our sister.
The parents who are separated from their own children? The children who are without their mom and dad? They are our family.
Liliana and her children are our family.
Those whose names we don’t know and stories we have yet to hear are our family.
When your family is in trouble, all political division is swept aside and you do whatever you can to help them. As Christians, we must do the same for members of God’s family who are suffering under unjust policies.
image credit to flickr user yooperann: https://flic.kr/p/e4nVQv
Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook.