Spending time with family last week caused me to reflect on what it means to be an American and what it means to be family. I spent the evening of July 4th back home with family, half of whom are not U.S. citizens. We watched fireworks blast off above the Allegheny River in the hills of northwestern Pennsylvania—the place I grew up, and the place I will always call home.
But my life story actually begins in a country outside of the United States.
When I was a very young child, my parents decided a better future would likely be afforded for me in the U.S. Before an age when I could comprehend the situation and without my given consent, I was brought across the border into the United States.
I am a foreign-born, U.S. citizen who was adopted as an infant.
In many ways, my story is not much different from that of DREAMers—the 1.4 million unauthorized immigrants, between the ages of 15 and 30, who were brought to this country by their parents when they were under the age of 16. They, like me, were born in a country other than the United States and were brought here as children. They, like me, have gone to schools, playgrounds, sports centers, music halls, places of religious worship and have grown up in cities, towns, and countryside across America. They, like me, are your neighbors, classmates, co-workers, and friends. They, like me, are Americans in their hearts and minds as well as their lived experiences. The one major difference between DREAMers and me is that I have a piece of paper validating my experience as a foreign-born American and they do not.
As one who can partially identify with and has friends who are DREAMers, I’ve begun in the past couple years to follow immigration issues more closely, including the attempts at the federal DREAM Act.
As I’ve followed immigration and reflected on what it means to live faithfully to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, I was struck by the similarities between DREAMers and that of the blind man in the Gospels who Jesus healed by spitting on the ground, making mud, and placing it in the man’s eyes (John 9). As you may recall, the disciples asked Jesus whose sin caused the man’s blindness—his or his parents. Jesus said the man’s blindness (and I might say, injustice, being that a physical disability is not as God justly intended) was neither the fault of the man nor of his parents but was instead an opportunity for restorative justice to be brought about through the renewal of the man’s sight and “for the works of God to be displayed in him” (John 9:3). It is important to note, Jesus did not go into a theological explanation of original sin being passed on through Adam manifesting itself in the man’s body, thus determining who indeed was at fault. Instead, he focused on the injustice in the present moment, the pain and suffering it caused, and the opportunity for the redeeming work of God to be manifested.
In a similar manner, DREAMers find themselves living in an unjust situation. As with all analogies, this analogy is not an exact representation of the associated entity. However, I believe that as people of faith, we should consider a federal DREAM Act as a rendering of justice and restoration to an injustice in our time. In the same way the healing of the man’s sight was evidence of a fully reconciled and restored universe one day yet to come, the church participating in justice and restoration likewise demonstrates to the world around us a coming Shalom realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As such, I join other people of faith and of conscience in applauding the current Administration’s effort to halt the deportation of, and provide work permits to DREAMers. However, this provision is only a temporary fix; the situation needs a permanent solution. Moreover, the immigration issues this nation faces and the people and families involved extend beyond DREAMers. As such, substantive and meaningful immigration reform and even the passage of a federal DREAM Act will take bipartisan support.
Immigration reform is not an area in which I have expertise. Like many of you, I’m learning more and more each day as I continue on the journey. But as a person whose situation differs primarily by a piece of paper validating what I and DREAMers know in our hearts to be true, “That we are indeed Americans,” I urge people of faith to reflect and pray on how we may do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God regarding the issue of immigration reform. By doing so, we may bear witness to our coming hope of all persons and all creation being fully reconciled unto one another and unto God.
Kyle Dechant is a graduate of Wheaton College-Wheaton, IL. He currently lives in Washington, D.C.