Strange but beautiful things happen when we begin to identify with people who are culturally different. A few years ago, I became friends with Peter, a guy at my church who also happened to be an undocumented immigrant. One day over lunch, he shared that his mother (whom he hadn’t seen in 15+ years) had recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. He desperately wanted to visit her, but due to his immigration status, he knew that if he left the U.S. he wouldn’t be allowed to return. Given his obligations to his family in the U.S., Peter made the heart-breaking decision to not to visit his dying mom.
As a U.S. citizen, I hadn’t personally experienced the trials of being undocumented or felt the frustration of geographic immobility while a loved one approached death in a far off land. But throughout my friendship with Peter — getting to know his family in the U.S., listening to him share about the harrowing challenges he experienced on a daily basis, and seeing photographs of his life and family in his home country — I got a glimpse of the world from his perspective. In many ways, Peter’s life was marked by sorrow and loss – and that was more evident than ever during our lunch conversation that day.
Evangelicals around the country are praying for Congress to bring fair and just immigration reform to a vote. Often, advocates within the Christian community voice concern for the “least of these” — the unauthorized immigrants who are living in the shadows. But churches shouldn’t view Congress’ critical immigration decision as simply a matter of compassion for the “other;” immigration might be the lifeline that American Christianity needs.
Much has been written about the way that growing numbers of “millennials” are walking away from the church. The music, programming, and even vocabulary of many Christian churches seems aimed at solving the puzzle of how to keep young people interested in faith and keep them sitting in the pews. Yet while it seems millennials are walking out the front door of U.S. congregations, another group is knocking at the back door: immigrant Christians.
As Congress makes a final attempt this fall to act on comprehensive immigration reform, the debate is focusing on “securing” our borders and offering a path to citizenship to the 11 million residents here without proper documentation. These politicized arguments, however, don’t see the forest for the trees.
We’re not viewing the broader impact that immigration has had on American society, especially since the last major immigration reform of the 1960s. In particular, we’re missing the way immigration is transforming the religious life of North America.
We commonly view immigration as introducing large numbers of non-Christian religions into U.S. society. True, because of immigration in the last half century, America has become the most religiously diverse country in the world, with thousands of mosques and temples dotting our religious landscape.
In the midst of the Jewish holiday season, more than 1,200 rabbis and cantors have urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“We thought it was a particularly good time to speak out as rabbis and cantors on this issue that really speaks to us as Americans and as Jews,” said Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Reform movement’s Washington office that coordinated the effort.
“For centuries, Jews were guests in others’ lands and not always treated well.”
On April 27, 2011, 62 killer tornadoes ripped through Alabama, destroying homes, lives, and entire communities. Two weeks later, another disaster struck Alabama — HB56, the most draconian anti-immigrant law passed by any state in the nation. Instead of working to provide disaster relief for a stricken people, Alabama legislators fulfilled campaign promises to criminalize undocumented immigrants for simply setting foot in Alabama. Their intent was to make every aspect of immigrants’ lives so miserable that they would self-deport.
The politicians far underestimated the heart and spine of Alabama’s faith leaders. A new book published by Greater Birmingham Ministries, Love Has No Borders, is a testament to how faith leaders united with immigrants to challenge the nation’s most hostile anti-immigrant legislation. Our experience is critical to the current national debate on comprehensive immigration reform and challenges faith leaders anywhere to step up, speak up, and stand with immigrant communities in their struggle.
HB56 did everything its authors intended. It hurt undocumented immigrants where they lived, worked, worshiped, prayed, and went to school. HB56 created mass confusion and outright terror for people without papers in Alabama. Most immigrant families were faced with shattering decisions. Should they split their families up, leaving those who were citizens in Alabama and the rest fleeing to relative safety somewhere else? Or should they stay together in this place they call home, living in constant fear that a broken headlight or a roadblock would lead to detention and deportation?
As Congress left Washington for August recess, advocates for immigration reform knew it would be a critical month for the effort to fix our broken immigration system. Legislators would be talking with their constituents at countless events about the issue and gauging how public opinion had (or hadn’t) shifted based on the Senate’s recent passage of a bipartisan bill.
Several officials used recess as an excuse for increasing their attacks on immigrants in an attempt to stop the growing momentum across the country for finding a solution to this challenge. For example, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has stated: “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Thankfully, other members have been far more constructive. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) embraced immigration reform and the need to provide a path to legalization for the millions of aspiring Americans who are already major contributors to our communities and our economy. He was clear that his motivations were rooted in his religious beliefs, saying: “with my Christian faith, it’s hard for me to say that I’m gonna divide these families up.”
On Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a new guidance for its officials when detaining non-criminal undocumented parents with minor children. The new policy seeks to safeguard parents and reduce family separation. ABC News reports:
“It clarifies that ICE officers and agents may, on a case-by-case basis, utilize alternatives to detention for these individuals particularly when the detention of a non-criminal alien would result in a child being left without an appropriate parental caregiver,” said Brandon Montgomery, a spokesperson for ICE.
Read more here.
In the New Testament book of James, we are cautioned about the power of our tongues. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (3:9-10).
This is a lesson that Iowa Congressman Steve King apparently needs to learn. On Sunday, Rep. King appeared on Meet the Press and stood by his outrageous assertion that:
“For every [undocumented immigrant eligible for the DREAM act] who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Given the absurd and offensive nature of his statements, strong criticism swiftly followed. The Washington Post’s fact checker awarded it “Four Pinocchios,” which is a rating that is only applied to “whoppers.” House Speaker John Boehner previously denounced the comments as “offensive” and out of line with our society’s values.
Rep. King is known as an ardent opponent of immigration reform and has made controversial statements in the past, so his latest remarks are neither shocking nor a surprise.
But they should be.
More than any other organized religion in the United States, the Catholic Church is an immigrant church that has grown with the nation, welcoming successive generations of immigrants who have helped build our country. To borrow a phrase from a toy store, immigrants are us.
More recently, some have questioned the bishops’ involvement in the national debate over immigration, perhaps wanting the church to stay neutral. But if they did so, they’d be untrue to their roots.
The church and her institutions have welcomed and helped integrate into American life Irish and Italian immigrants who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Central and Eastern Europeans who fled Europe after the Second World War; and Latin American and Asian populations more recently.
As a kid, the school day revolved around recess. The bell rang, the books closed, and we bolted out of the building and onto the playground. For a few brief minutes anything was possible. Imaginations ran wild, transporting us to far off lands and transforming us into superheroes and sports stars. We cemented friendships and started fights; we formed alliances and enemies. And while our teachers and parents assumed that math, science, reading, and social studies structured our day, in reality our lives were defined by what transpired during recess.
Congress is in recess during the month of August. While many assume they have taken an extended vacation, nothing could be further from the truth. Recess is just as important now as it was when we were kids, but the rules have changed. Here are five things you need to know about the next month.
What can be accomplished in just 10 days by the courageous actions of young immigrants? More than many of us would hope to accomplish in a year, or a lifetime. It has been more than a week since the nine DREAMers arrived at the U.S.-Mexico Nogales port of entry on July 22 and asked authorities to let them come back home. They were willing to risk all they have gained to fight for immigrant families that have been torn apart by the 1.7 million deportations by the Obama Administration.
In just over a week, these courageous young immigrant leaders have received widespread national attention. Tens of thousands of calls and letters from supporters and organizations around the country have called for their release, including the U.S. Jesuit Conference. Multiple protests and sit-ins by nationwide members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance have included the parents and family members of the DREAM 9, gathering support from members of Congress. Just recently, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) made a floor speech in the House and nearly 40 other house members have signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take immediate action and use his discretion for their release.
The battles over immigration reform and race have weighed heavily on me this summer. They have each become a symbol and a test, for me, of whether we can resurrect “the common good” in this nation.
I say that having just met with virtually all the key decision makers on when, how, and even if our nation’s politicians have the capacity to reform our terribly broken immigration system and help heal the nation from all the pain it has caused. Almost two-thirds of the country — both Democrat and Republican — is for reform, but this ideological impasse is now the greatest threat to our 11 million undocumented friends and neighbors in this country. I have met with both Republican and Democrat senators and members of Congress, including their leaders, the president and his leadership team, law enforcement officials, business leaders, and hundreds of pastors and Christians across denominations and backgrounds — all of whom want to repair this deeply flawed and cruel system.
There is so little substance to oppose reform. It’s good for the economy, for law enforcement, for families, communities, and congregations, and for the moral fabric of our nation — as a place of diversity, growth, and welcoming.
You see, politics really isn’t the problem here. Nobody wants to talk about what is at the very heart of the problem: race.
I have always loved baseball. Growing up on the mean streets of East Los Angeles, baseball was the one activity that kept me away from the pitfalls many young Latino males face on a daily basis. Summer days were spent—sunrise to sunset—in makeshift sandlots in the shadows of Dodger Stadium, fielding bad-hop grounders and striping screaming line drives. It was our neighborhood pastime.
On the occasion when enough coins were scraped up to venture into the venerable cathedral, Dodger Stadium, our baseball heroes paraded before us on this hallowed turf. Our childhood heroes were rarely categorized according to ethnicity and nation of origin but always according to the color of their uniform, Dodger Blue. It was the name on the front of the uniform that mattered, not the back.
As maturity set in and the complexity of national racial issues manifested themselves with the social unrest of the late 1960s, I came to a deeper understanding of the diverse and painful racialized world in which I lived. Baseball was not the safe and immune haven I had first imagined. I became aware of the once segregated Negro Leagues and the painful history of Jackie Robinson, the first Black player to integrate into the “major leagues.” I also realized that even in my English speaking, Mexican-American home, I too was not nationally normative. I was Mexican-American, Latino, Hispanic, Chicano (albeit, born in the United States) and spoke with a distinct accent that immediately identified me as such which, in this country, included labels like wetback, beaner, spic[!], etc.
It was about this time that my relationship with the national pastime took an interesting turn. As much as I wanted to focus on the name on the front of the uniform, I couldn’t help but notice the names on the back of the uniform. Cepeda, Clemente, Marichal, Tiant, and Concepción all became a part of my racialized purview. This realization came to full fruition with the onset of Fernandomania in the 1980s.
The “Nuns on the Bus” are back from their 6,800-mile trek across the U.S., but their hardest job may be yet to come: convincing the Republican-led House to pass immigration reform.
The cross-country tour, a project of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, was the nuns’ second cross-country trip after last year’s push to protest proposed budget cuts that the sisters said would hurt the poor.
When it comes to lobbying for comprehensive immigration reform, Sister Simone Campbell said even the Catholic bishops are on board with the Nuns on the Bus.
“This is a day that the Lord has made.”
Those words begin a very popular worship song among evangelical Christians. And they were the first words that came to my mind when I stood alongside the widest spectrum of evangelical leaders we have ever seen at a gathering yesterday morning on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. We were there to lead a day of prayer and discussion with the leaders of the House of Representatives about the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform — more specifically to fix a system that is not only broken, but cruel for millions of people.
The whole day was sponsored and led by the Evangelical Immigration Table, one of the most hopeful signs in many years of how Christians can come together to make a difference. At the press conference, Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch, speaking as a journalist, said he has never seen such evangelical unity over any other issue
On Monday I watched as my young DREAMer friends pause to pray from the “other side” of the fence in Nogales, Mexico before attempting to cross the border back into the Arizona. Rev. John Fife, founder of the Sanctuary Movement, walked with his hand on the shoulder of Marco Saavedra. As he approached the border, a reporter asked Marco if he had anything to say. “Perfect love casts out all fear,” he said. Then he stepped forward into the unknown.
All nine immigrant youth leaders grew up in the U.S., some of them qualify for Deferred Action for Childhod Arrivals, therefore are DREAMers. They chose to leave the U.S. to accompany their undocumented peers, who also grew up here, but who left or were deported because of a broken immigration system. They and their families are victims of the broken U.S. border policy. So “documented” and “undocumented” youth, standing together for justice, met on the Mexico side of the border an attempted to cross back into the U.S. together. They were immediately arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and are now detained at the Correction Corporation of America’s private detention center in Eloy, Ariz.
While many groups are focused on the upcoming congressional recess and on outreach efforts to their members of Congress in their home districts, evangelical Christians have another priority in mind this week.
Today, hundreds of evangelicals from across the country will gather on Capitol Hill to host the Pray4Reform Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action. The day includes a press conference, worship service, and a full day of meetings at congressional offices to urge immigration reform.
You can follow the day’s events by visiting http://pray4reform.org/, where the news conference and worship service will be live streamed. Also, follow and join the conversation via social media by following the hashtag #pray4reform.
The GOP was highly criticized by Democratic officials for their plan to offer a path to citizenship for illegal children with the exclusion of legalizing their parents. White House advisors remain spiteful of the GOP’s immigration plans accusing them of “cruel hypocrisy.” The Associated Press reports:
Dan Pfeiffer (FI'-fer) says over Twitter that the plan boils down to allowing some kids to stay while deporting their parents.
Read more here.
God’s desire that we show others hospitality is a common theme in scripture; in the Old Testament showing hospitality was a cultural norm, much as it is today in shame and honor cultures. The New Testament frequently expresses its central importance as well. However, what does it actually mean to show hospitality? This is where things really get interesting: in English, we typically understand hospitality as a willingness to host, feed, and entertain a guest … something we all do and especially with our personal friends. However, what if the biblical term has a much deeper (and more difficult) meaning?
This is the problem we run into when we read the Bible in English and assume we understand what it’s saying … often, we don’t — or at least we don’t understand it fully. Trying to translate between languages is tricky like that, and the concept of “hospitality” is a prime example of what is missed between one language and another.
Based on our English definition, most everyone would consider themselves hospitable. But are we really?