Right-wing politicians are fond of saying we need more Christian influence in American political life.
I don’t disagree with that. But I wonder if they have any idea what they are asking. For a nation guided by Christian principles would bear scant resemblance to their political agenda.
Take immigration, for example. Jesus practiced radical welcome, not the restrictive legalistic barriers envisioned by conservatives, and certainly not the denigration of dark-skinned immigrants and the unleashing of armed posses along the Rio Grande.
God’s people, after all, began as immigrants and refugees. God saw them as a “beacon” to all nations.
In 1910 my great-grandmother, Gelsamine Ferrigno, arrived at Ellis Island — a teen bride with her husband and two children desperate to make a better life. The story that has been passed down, confirmed by relatives both here and in Italy, is that the family decided that Gelsamine and Albert were the most likely to succeed so they pooled their resources, put them on a boat to America, said their goodbyes and told them to get work, make money, and send it back to their needy family in Solerno, Italy.
I often think about the elements of what I know of my story: immigrants from Italy, teenagers bearing a family burden, pressure to learn language and culture, permanent goodbyes to everything they ever knew, loneliness, fear.
There are two main reasons I often reminisce on this story in my family history. First, I am eagerly working to support reform to our immigration laws for the immigrants of today.
Our immigration laws are broken and are in dire need of some attention. Families are being separated, a permanent underclass is being kept in the shadows, and our country continues to thrive on the adage “we want your work, we just don’t want you.” It is not just. It is not biblical, and there is no reason for politicians to willfully put politics before the needs of vulnerable people in our communities.
With the growing crisis of undocumented minors coming to the United States without a parent or guardian, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) urged the government to allow them to provide compassionate care to these at-risk youth.
NaLEC president Rev. Gabriel Salguero is confident that the church will play a crucial role in solving this humanitarian crisis, just like it supports people through so many crises.
“It is incomprehensible to us that faith leaders and relief agencies who are at the forefront of responding to natural disasters, foster-care, and even ministry to detainees across the nation and world, are being kept from doing what we do best, compassionate service. The U.S. should create policies that facilitate this partnership,” Rev. Salguero said in a news release.
The influx of unaccompanied minors into the United States is primarily caused by drug-related violence in Central America, which leaves children looking for a safe haven. Hispanic evangelical churches are already working with partners in Central America to fight against this violence.
“We are working with our faith partners in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to respond to some of the core causes like increased gang-violence and issues of deprivation. Any exclusion of communities who are ready to help is creating an unnecessary obstacle with a great track record of humanitarian responses,” Rev. Salugero added in the release.
Yesterday was one of the craziest days in recent American political history. House Majority leader Eric Cantor fell to Tea Party economics professor David Brat in a primary upset no pundit saw coming.
While the early analysis suggested that support for immigration reform may have been what brought Cantor down, exit polling suggests his lack of attention to the concerns of his constituents and his inability to deliver on his promises were a greater factor than the immigration issue. Cantor never brought a vote on immigration to the floor and was never a strong ally on immigration.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released an immigration poll at the Brookings Institute. Nearly 80 percent of all Americans and nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants remain in support of immigration reform that includes a path towards citizenship or legal status.
The stunning primary defeat of Eric Cantor could be a blessing for passing immigration reform. Cantor, as Majority Leader in the House and the number two Republican, was no ally of immigration reform and was likely an obstacle to crucial bi-partisan action. Always lurking in the shadows and clearly hoping to be the next Speaker of the House, Cantor was a threat to John Boehner. Apparently, continually working the inside game to become the Speaker, instead of being a member of Congress who represented his district was one of the biggest reasons Cantor lost his election.
As immigration reform gains more and more bipartisan support in Congress, I am encouraged by our lawmakers’ positive steps forward, and I can’t help but think of my own story on immigration.
When I first started working on immigration, I was naïve. My wife and I started ministering to immigrants in 2005, and I thought our work would be all about sharing the Gospel of Christ.
I thought we would share in word and deed and our acts of service would show compassion. I was sure moving to the neighborhood would help make us equal participants in our community together, but certain things would make this nearly impossible.
"All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
When my husband Billy and I married, he was a supervisor for underground drilling construction crews. It was hard work, but he enjoyed the fast pace and his team. Most of the workers, including Billy, were undocumented immigrants, working illegally in the U.S.
I was nervous. My new husband was driving giant construction equipment all over Southern California without a valid driver’s license. I knew one mistake could result in deportation and our sharing life together in Guatemala.
I expected exploitation and injustice. So while I was angry when situations arose, like not getting paid for a month’s worth of work, I can’t honestly say I was surprised. What did stun me, however, was a bizarre experience with Billy’s boss.
Billy had worked for James for a little over a year when a series of broken promises encouraged Billy to look elsewhere for a job. He found a company familiar with his work and willing to make him an offer. He politely turned in his two week’s notice.
James was not happy. In fact, he told Billy not to bother working the final two weeks. Then he did the unthinkable: he called and reported Billy’s immigration status to the authorities.
For Nazry and I, our faith is paramount to how we think about immigration policy. The heaviest tears that we cried during his 10 months of detention were for the men and women in the detention centers who were scared and confused, without a network of support to sustain them like my husband had.