St. Paul once reminded the argumentative folks in the ancient Corinthian congregation that they were as people gazing dimly into a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12), hardly able to make out their faces staring back at them. His point was simply that the things we think we “see” really well in this life we actually see and understand rather poorly. And misinterpreted reality is the result.
The past several years have seen the release of two excellent films aimed at helping the Christian community understand immigration and the need for immigration reform. Gospel without Borders, produced by EthicsDaily.com, and the just-released The Stranger film by the Evangelical Immigration Table, are two great presentations Christian groups and others should view and discuss.
LUCHA Ministries, the faith-based group that I work with in Fredericksburg, Va., recently screened The Stranger film for about 50 people in our community. Like Gospel without Borders, this film features vignettes of families and individuals crushed by our nation’s merciless and nonsensical immigration system. Both also interview religious and secular advocates who affirm the need to fix the system in a way that respects human life and dignity, guarantees secure borders, and creates a pathway to citizenship.
I watch these films and listen to their appeals and wonder why we can’t get immigration reform done. It all seems so obvious. Perhaps Paul gives us some insight here. Perhaps it’s because, like all things including immigration reform, what we think we see has little to do with reality.
We think we see – or we have been told to see – a bunch of poor, filthy immigrants trying to scam the immigration system, when the reality is that immigrants come to work without benefits in low-paying, back-breaking jobs that add income and wealth to the American economy.
We think we see undocumented immigrants as Latinos only, when the undocumented represent all races and economic levels – even sometimes the most wealthy.
We think we see immigrants as tearing down the fabric of our society, when church and community leaders across our land testify to the spiritual, moral, and social vitality immigrants bring.
And because we think we see immigrants as a whole for what they are, when in fact we see very poorly, we badly misinterpret the current surge of Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Rather than a horde of ragged and diseased kids looking to cash in on easy street, the reality is frightened children fleeing unbelievable violence, poverty, and corruption on a scale seen in a war zone.
Rather than foolish, conniving Latin American parents trying to trick the U.S. government in taking their children, the reality is parents so desperate to save their children they are paying human smugglers thousands of dollars to take their children thousands of miles away, perhaps never to see them again, just to give them a chance to live.
But worst of all, we fail to see the reality of who we are, living in this land where so many desperate people come hoping someone will care. Like the Queen singing out, “Mirror, mirror in my hand, who’s the fairest in all the land?” we don’t doubt for a minute that we are the most beautiful and lovely of all God’s creatures. But are we?
If so, what is so beautiful about happily eating our healthy salads and condemning the immigrant hands that picked the produce to make them? What is so beautiful about deporting workers our economy depends on and desperately needs more of? What is so fair and lovely about never fixing a fiasco of a system, but contentedly keeping millions of people living fearful lives in the shadows?
And what is beautiful about screaming at scared and scarred Central American children to “Go Back!” to their gang-infested, war-zone homes? Or proposing to send National Guard troops to “secure” a border that these children, who willingly give themselves up to border officials, aren’t even trying to cross illegally? Or using these children for cheap, political tricks?
And what is so beautiful about a people who claim to follow a compassionate Messiah yet cannot find it in themselves to even consider “welcoming the stranger,” opening their arms to the most vulnerable, or even at least making time to watch films such as these, talk about the issue, and pray that our political leaders would find the guts to fix a broken and shameful immigration system?
We see the world around us so poorly, yet are convinced that our poor vision is God’s truth. “The fairest in all the land” are always those who treat others with the utmost respect and affirm their dignity, value, and worth. I am convinced it is possible to create an immigration system that can uphold human worth in a way that is good for our country. But for that to happen we have to open our eyes to reality as it really is.
Greg Smith is Administrative Coordinator of LUCHA Ministries in Fredericksburg, Va., and works in Latino ministry with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Image: Mirror, MorganStudio / Shutterstock.com