Our Response to Immigrants: A Blaring Horn or a Beautiful Song?

By Troy Jackson 08-05-2010

"I'm against you guys." A middle-aged man from Cincinnati proudly wearing an American flag on his T-shirt defiantly uttered these words to me a few weeks ago in Columbus, Ohio. I was there as part of Church World Service's Interfaith service in solidarity with undocumented immigrants in Arizona and throughout the nation. I was there for and with immigrants. My fellow Cincinnatian was there in opposition.

And he is not alone. This past week, several U.S. senators have even called for overturning the 14th Amendment (a just amendment to insure citizenship for freed slaves) in order to strip citizenship for babies born to undocumented immigrants. The noise of those against undocumented immigrants and their families is growing more harsh and shrill by the day.

During the worship service a few weeks ago, which included comments from many faith leaders, testimony from immigrants, and periods of reflection while beautiful music emanated from a violin, a group of 25 lined the nearby street asking people to "honk if they wanted illegal immigrants" deported. They also asked people to support Arizona's SB 1070, the controversial immigration law that was set to be enacted on July 29 before it was struck down by a federal judge. And they were calling for Ohio to enact similar legislation.

The entire evening turned when 10-year-old Jamie Aristigue went to the microphone, accompanied by her younger sibling and pregnant mom. She courageously shared about the arrest and detention of her father a few months ago, and how she had not seen her father for weeks. On the verge of tears, Jamie told the crowd how sad she was that her mom would soon give birth to her new brother or sister without her father participating because he is an undocumented immigrant. Jamie's story, of families being separated and torn apart, is one of the most grievous results of our broken immigration system.

After Jamie spoke, with few dry eyes in the crowd, Nicole DeGreg played a beautiful song on her violin. Meanwhile, every few moments, the song was interrupted by the ugly sound of blaring car horns, offering their support of a get-tough policy on illegal immigration.

At the end of the day, this is the choice facing the Church as we encounter undocumented immigrants and their families. Will we be part of a beautiful song and movement of faith, hope, and love, or will we be part of a cacophony of car horns blaring shouts of division, exclusion, and fear?

The apostle Paul famously wrote, "If I speak in tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1). The vast majority of those who have jumped on the anti-immigrant crusade may speak in eloquent language and fiery rhetoric, and even argue for the appeal of the 14th Amendment, but if they do not have love for the immigrant, they are but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal or a blaring car horn.

For the sake of Jamie and the countless young children like her in this land, let us choose to reject the blaring and ugly horn of fear, and instead join the beautiful song of faith, hope, and love. Let us be part of a movement to create an immigration system that is fair, just, and loving -- for the greatest of these is love.

Troy Jackson is senior pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and earned his PhD in United States history from the University of Kentucky. He is author of Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader (Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century) and a participant in Sojourners' Windchangers grassroots organizing project in Ohio.

+ CCIR: Sign up for "On the Move" on August 12, a webinar with Rev. David Vasquez on immigration stories and ministry.

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