'You Shall Not Oppress an Immigrant'
These remarks were presented on October 13, 2009 at a press conference in Aurora, CO urging Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) to take a public stand in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. The event was one of hundreds of actions across the country taking place that day as part of the Reform Immigration For America campaign and in support of Rep. Luis Gutierrez's (D-IL) presentation of principles for immigration reform. Aurora recently won an award for being an "All-America City," and has an ICE detention facility.
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I'm Rev. Anne Dunlap. I'm honored to be here in support of comprehensive immigration reform on this day of national action. I am the pastor of Comunidad Liberación/Liberation Community UCC here in Aurora, a faith community made up of immigrants whose points of entry range from Plymouth Rock in the east to the Sonoran Desert in the west. Each week when we gather together for worship we pray for a change in the heart of this country, that there would be immigration reform that assures that all people are treated with respect and dignity.
In the Christian faith tradition we turn to our sacred text to help us understand what kind of community our Creator calls us to be. We read, for example, that the people of Israel were immigrants in the land of Egypt. Generations earlier, they had left their homeland because of famine. They left their homeland and immigrated to Egypt in order to be able to feed their families, in order to be sure their children had a better future. But you may know the story: In Egypt they became slaves -- as the text says, "The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service ... [they] were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them" (Exodus 1:13-14). The Israelites lived an oppressed and exploited life; even their children lived under the threat of death. Even the liberator, Moses, knew the pain of being a child separated from his mother when the Egyptian equivalent of ICE swept in to threaten the Israelite community.
When the Israelites were liberated from slavery, God gave them instruction in how not to become like Egypt, and one of the constant themes of that instruction is summed up in this verse from Exodus: "You shall not oppress an immigrant; you know the heart of an immigrant, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23:9). To not become like Egypt, they are to remember the immigrant's heart: a heart full of strength, wanting only to work hard to assure that their families and their communities will survive hard times.
We, here and now, in a nation of immigrants, in this "All-America City," have forgotten the heart of an immigrant. We have become Egypt in the "ruthless tasks we impose," through policies of death, fear, and exploitation:
- policies that tear families apart, parent from hungry child, partner from frightened partner,
- policies that disappear parents, partners, and children into a detention system in which violates their rights at every turn,
- policies that depend on employers stealing wages from mothers and fathers who need that wage to feed their children,
- policies that force desperate mothers into the Arizona desert to die with their babies still suckling at their breast.
As we as a nation consider the need for comprehensive immigration reform, the faith community urges all of us today, across the country, to turn back from the ways of Egypt and remember the heart of the immigrant. It is our own heart, a heart of strength wanting only to work hard to assure our families, all our families, and our communities, all our communities, will survive hard times, with dignity honored and justice protected.
Remember the heart of the immigrant.
Rev. Anne Dunlap is the pastor of Comunidad Liberación/Liberation Community in Aurora, CO, a bilingual, multi-cultural base community in the Christian tradition, striving to live faithfully, to embody God's vision of the beloved community, and to resist joyfully oppression and injustice. Comunidad is a ministry of Mayflower UCC in Englewood, CO.