The inhumanity perpetrated by this country at the U.S.-Mexico border continues under President Joe Biden. Last week, we looked with horror at pictures of border patrol agents on horseback, chasing and striking Haitian migrants who had been camping under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. An estimated 2,000 Haitian migrants have been deported to Haiti.
Lately, I've been thinking about how these physical borders between nation-states first manifest as borders in our hearts. The anti-immigrant laws that prevent undocumented immigrants from ascertaining driver’s licenses or qualifying for pandemic aid are outgrowths of harmful beliefs that some U.S. citizens hold to be true.
For Christians, the borders within our hearts must be of supreme concern. The borders within our hearts determine who is deserving and undeserving; who is like us and who is not. Ultimately, these borders in our hearts determine the border policy in the United States: who is let in to this country and who is kept out. Christians are called to consider immigrants their siblings and work for their flourishing, but if our immigration and refugee policy is any indication, the borders within our hearts are stronger than our commitments to our faith.
The borders within our hearts contradict God’s command that we welcome immigrants and refugees, showing them the same compassion we would show a family member — or even ourselves (Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19; Matthew 25:35). These internal borders create material barriers for us joining in what God would have us do in the world: to work for full inclusion of immigrants and refugees, regardless of their legal status. Those borders are bound up with white supremacy, which is the most powerful border-force shaping minds and hearts in the U.S. today.
Let me give you a personal example of how white supremacy enforces borders both internally and externally. My wife is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Poland. She is also a university professor who speaks fluent English. She had many advantages other immigrants do not. Nevertheless, it took nearly 18 months for her to receive permanent residency status in the United States after we were married. My congregants at the previous church where I served were astonished by this: How could it take so long for someone like her to be granted legal status in the U.S.?
The unspoken part of that question is: How could someone who is white and educated struggle so mightily to go through the U.S. immigration process? My wife had been let inside the borders of my white congregation’s hearts. It is unlikely that they would have extended that same compassion to immigrants who did not have these same advantages. White supremacy has been the prevailing logic of our immigration process, and white Americans are only able to clearly see its failures when it fails someone like them.
Scripture speaks directly to the ways borders govern our hearts and minds. In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus has an encounter with a man afflicted by a demon. He asks his name, and the demon replies: “My name is Legion; for we are many.” I have always been struck by the way the demon chooses a unit of the Roman military to name itself — the same military that occupied Judea at the time. This story ought to make us pause and consider the ways in which the empire is not only expressed through external occupation, but is also internalized in our hearts and minds.
Far from leaving us without recourse, scripture insists the heart can be occupied by something greater than empire: the kingdom of God. In Luke 17:21, Jesus explicitly says that the kingdom of God is not easily observable as it is made manifest within us. Therefore, if Christians desire for God’s kingdom to be made manifest, we must realize that when we pray for God’s kingdom and God’s rule to take hold in the world, we are praying for the kingdom to internalize itself within our hearts.
What have border patrol agents internalized in their hearts? Border patrol agent and union vice president Jon Anfinsen spoke to ABC News about the actions of the border patrol agents on horseback: “These agents are highly trained along with their horses and they were doing exactly what they were trained to do.” I believe that is undoubtedly true. They were doing exactly what they were trained to do — with all the brutality that training mandates. This is white supremacy in a uniform; it is the manifestation of a border policy that first took root in our hearts.
In the United States, white supremacy has made it impossible to see immigrants — but especially Haitian immigrants — as siblings who God commands us to love as though they were our neighbors. The U.S. has long resisted seeing Haitians not only as neighbors but as humans. Haiti became an independent nation in 1804 as the result of a successful slave revolt. Considering the history of slavery in the U.S., it isn’t hard to see how internal and physical borders have manifested themselves to the exclusion of Haitian people.
But that does not have to be the end of the story. Conversion can happen in unlikely places and people. Jesus’ message that the kingdom of God will win out over the imperial occupation of our hearts is particularly important in this present moment. Our faith is calling us to consider the borders within our hearts that attempt to say who belongs and who does not. These borders must be done away with altogether.
News reports will not focus on this internal crisis, but it is of vital importance for the soul of our nation and the Christian faith. It is not just at the boundary between the United States and Mexico that a border takes shape — the real border is in our hearts.