Real people, with real stories, and real families are trembling in fear for the future of their families and, in some cases, their own lives. For those of us who follow Jesus, our faith must inform our citizenship — not the inverse. It's time for us to ask better questions, seek deeper understanding and accompany our neighbors— whether local or global — who are navigating the scariest moments of their lives.
“Are we going to have to worry about ICE agents swooping down on our clients on distribution day?” he said. “What if my congregation chose to offer sanctuary to an immigrant facing deportation? Would we have to worry about immigration officers and sheriff’s deputies kicking down our front door?”
Bishop Mark Beckwith, who heads the Episcopal Diocese of Newark in New Jersey, says at least 10 of the 100 congregations in his diocese have parishioners who are affected by the new policies. He described a heightened sense of urgency as his diocese investigates what its collective response should be.
“What is so upsetting about this is we don’t know what a safe space is,” he said, citing uncertainty about whether the traditional status of churches as sanctuaries will be respected. “We need to move as fast as these executive orders are moving. That’s the challenge. We are grounded in our biblical faith and we need to respond.”
“The practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement right now are not in line with who we say we are as a government and a country,” Kumpf said. “What they did was legally on the line of violating the Sensitive Locations Memo. That’s extraordinarily morally reprehensible.”
Drafted in 2011, the Sensitive Locations Memo places restrictions on ICE enforcement in sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, and hospitals. Many at the gathering felt that the sensitive lines of sanctuary were crossed on the morning of the Feb 8.
LAST SUMMER, THE FUTURE of for-profit prisons seemed bleak. The U.S. Department of Justice announced it would begin phasing out its use of privately run prisons and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security quickly followed suit, declaring that it would reconsider its use of privately run detention centers. Stocks for companies that ran for-profit prisons plunged.
But then Donald Trump was elected president, and private prison stocks immediately soared. The nation’s largest prison company, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), reported a boost of more than 40 percent in the value of its shares. Given Trump’s promises to “create a new special deportation task force,” investors bet that privately run detention centers will play a key role.
And the investors may be right. Every year, DHS detains about 400,000 undocumented immigrants in 250 centers nationwide, and 62 percent of the beds in these centers are operated by for-profit corporations.
According to Maria-José Soerens, a licensed mental-health counselor serving undocumented immigrants in Seattle, there are two major problems with for-profit detention centers. First, for-profit centers are not held accountable to the standards that govern federally run centers. In her work in these centers, Soerens has heard complaints ranging from a lack of medical attention to inadequate opportunities for parent-child visitation; one young woman who was having suicidal thoughts was kept in solitary confinement until she told guards she was “better.”
But the deepest problem, explains Soerens, is that most detention centers only exist because corporations saw a “business opportunity.” Beginning in the early 2000s, for-profit prison companies successfully lobbied Congress to expand drastically the number of beds in the immigration detention system—a move that doubled the revenue of the two largest for-profit prison companies. In 1998, there were 14,000 beds available for immigrant detention; today, there are 34,000.
First came the mayors of New York, Chicago, and Seattle declaring their cities “sanctuaries”, and saying they will protect undocumented immigrants from President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to deport them.
Then thousands of students, professors, alumni, and others at elite universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Brown, signed petitions, asking their schools to protect undocumented students from any executive order.
Now, religious congregations, including churches and synagogues, are declaring themselves “sanctuaries” for immigrants fleeing deportation.
As an immigrant woman and a Christian, I’ve loved the book of Ruth ever since I realized Ruth was an immigrant, welcomed into the family of God. And I’ve often been surprised by the interpretations of the Biblical story, in which Boaz is the hero and no one else has any agency. I find this odd because, as I read Ruth, what I see is that Boaz did nothing more heroic than exactly what was required by God’s law: He welcomed an immigrant from a neighboring community.
When you turn on the faucet in Flint, Mich. you don’t just get water — you also get the potent neurotoxin lead. And without a driver’s license, Flint residents are being refused bottled water from the city, so undocumented people have to search elsewhere for clean water, reports America magazine. Deacon Omar Odette of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Flint says that members of his parish have been arrested by immigration authorities for not having documentation.
Rosa Robles spent 461 days inside a Tucson, Ariz., church after receiving a deportation order that would have separated her from her husband and children.
She has finally received an assurance from the federal government that she will not be deported, so on Nov. 11, she left the church for the first time in over one year.
Historically, the United States has said as long as you were born here, you are from here — a principle called birthright citizenship. It doesn’t matter who your parents are or what your family history is — as long as you were born on U.S. soil you are a citizen. This was codified in the 14th Amendment, which sought to finally grant citizenship status to African Americans living in the United States rather than leaving them in legal limbo.
A hearing on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security last Wednesday explored ways to change this tradition of birthright citizenship pointing to ostensible problems with pregnant women travelling to the U.S. specifically for the purpose of giving birth as well as what the committee sees as substantial public support for moving away from it.
Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders is non-fiction, but I read it like it was one of the latest blockbuster novels, this time with gorgeous writing. I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t want the journey to end, following Chris Hoke through jails and streams and farms of Washington’s Skagit Valley as he grew from a young man interested in faith outside the walls of the church to a pastor to the “homies” of the area, as they called themselves—men whose criminal past or undocumented status have caused them to be among the most marginalized in our society. This book is imbued with dignity, prayer, and an understanding that relationships require forgiveness, on both sides. Wanted is a beautiful reflection on what the life of faith looks like in action.
Hoke grew up in southern California but was drawn to the dimmer corners of the Christian faith. He made his way to northwest Washington state to work with Tierra Nueva, a ministry that “seeks to share the good news of God’s freedom in Jesus Christ with people on the margins (immigrant, inmates, ex-offenders, the homeless).” We recently chatted about his work with Tierra Nueva, the value of a good metaphor, and how reading the Scriptures in prison can make them new.
In the face of an imploding immigration system, an exploding political debate and a deadlock on reform in Washington, it was religious leaders who rallied to form a humanitarian response to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border to the United States this summer.
The number of migrants crossing the border began its steady rise in 2011, but it escaped the Obama administration’s notice until spring, when the rise became a wave.
By September, 66,127 unaccompanied children and 66,142 Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran families had crossed into the Southwest, mostly into the Rio Grande Valley. The flood contributed to a backlog in U.S. immigration courts of nearly 400,000 cases.
Nowhere was the religious leadership more apparent than in McAllen, Texas, where churches and local government forged an effective and compassionate response to the crisis.
My sons, Issac and Felipe are my pride and joy. My wife and I go to church with them every Sunday, and we spend our free time at the movies or enjoying a walk through downtown Chicago. We also take road trips, one of which brought us to New York City where we visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
I brought them there because I wanted them to see
the most important American monument in person. The Statue of Liberty is the icon of freedom and a historic welcoming signal to immigrants.
Chicago is my home. It's been that way for the past 17 years. I'm a maintenance worker at a residential building and a member of SEIU Local 1. I'm kind of living the American dream. I say "kind-of" because my undocumented status has prevented me from pursuing better job opportunities. I had the chance to become an assistant engineer at my building but declined the offer because I'm scared of losing the job if my bosses discover that I'm undocumented.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, detained earlier today by border patrol at McAllen-Miller International Airport in Texas after having visited the border town‘s shelter for unaccompanied Central American refugees, has been released, reports say.
His trip included participating in a vigil to honor the children who have embarked on a dangerous journey to the U.S. to save their lives.
Vargas wanted to shed light on the crisis occurring at the border and highlight the need to address the issue in a humanitarian way.
“I’m the most privileged undocumented immigrant in the country," Vargas said to the Dallas Morning News on Sunday.
"And with that privilege comes responsibility—the responsibility of tying my specific story to the story of 11 million undocumented people like me and using every skill and resource I have to tell stories and insist that we talk about this issue humanely and fairly.”
Read the full story here.
Some of you may know the experience of having a secret about yourself that when revealed makes you have to completely reframe your identity. This happened for me in my junior year of high school when I was offered the opportunity to travel through a college bound program. That is when I learned I was “undocumented.” The reality of the broad impact of this label set in with each evasive answer my mother gave when I asked if I’d be able to not only travel, but drive, or work to help pay the bills. Being undocumented threatened my dreams of going to college; it threatened the possibility of a better future.
I was born in Mexico, and as proud as I am about my ethnicity, there is only one place I know as home, the United States. My father abandoned us when I was 3 years old and this set everything in motion that would lead me and my family to the U.S. When we struggled without his support, my older brother left for the U.S. in search of a better life at the age of 14. My mother’s love for her oldest son drove her to leave her home as well. When my brother learned she was considering leaving me, his young sister, in the care of my uncle while she visited him, he insisted she brought me along. I have now been in the U.S. for 25 years.
The people we meet change our lives. Through hearing the stories and learning about the lives of others, we are transformed. And, it is for exactly those reasons that I hope you’ll watch this short trailer and sign up to be one of the first people to watch The Stranger.
The Stranger is a new 40-minute documentary created to introduce Christians to the stories and lives of immigrants living in this country. Interviews with pastors, Christian leaders, and policy experts provide a biblically based context for the immigration challenges that face our country today. The film, commissioned by the Evangelical Immigration Table, was produced by Emmy-award winning producer Linda Midgett.
This President’s Day, about 20 church leaders, sympathizers, and undocumented immigrants were arrested in front of the White House as part of an act of civil disobedience to protest the nearly 2 million people who have been deported under President Obama.
The core group and about 40 supporters gathered around 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. They held signs that said, “Praying for Relief” and “#Not1moredeportation,” and sang hymns in between short megaphoned speeches that told personal stories. They called for immigration reform. “Not one more, not one more,” they chanted together in both English and Spanish.
The event was organized by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the United Methodist Church, who was the first Hispanic woman to be elected to her position.
Last week, I attended a screening of Documented, Jose Antonio Vargas’ film about his coming out as an undocumented immigrant after winning the Pulitzer Prize. His journey is honest, poignant, and humorous. A lesser subject would have cut some of the material showing the strain of the situation on his familial relations, but the film never flinches from the raw story.
I sat in on a panel discussion after the screening filled with members of an organization featured in the film, “DREAMers Moms.” I had a chance to speak with several of them, and one story stuck out in particular. One mom left her country for the good of her children so they would have hope of a positive future in the United States. She hasn’t seen her mother in 13 years and won’t until immigration reform is passed into law. If she leaves the U.S., it’s likely she wouldn’t be allowed to return and care for her children. This would leave them essentially orphans who would be placed into foster care. Her mother is now in her 80s, frail and sick. This woman is losing hope of ever again touching the woman who cared for her, but still prays daily for a miracle.
Business leaders, law enforcement officials, and evangelical Christians—key constituencies that are typically part of the Republican base—have been at the forefront of immigration reform. Given the obvious benefits of, and broad public support for, immigration reform, why are many arch-conservatives in the House of Representatives refusing to address the issue in a serious way? The answer may point to an issue that we still hesitate to talk about directly: race.
Fixing our broken immigration system would grow our economy and reduce the deficit. It would establish a workable visa system that ensures enough workers with “status” to meet employers’ demands. It would end the painful practice of tearing families and communities apart through deportations and bring parents and children out of the shadows of danger and exploitation. And it would allow undocumented immigrants—some of whom even have children serving in the U.S. military—to have not “amnesty,” but a rigorous pathway toward earned citizenship that starts at the end of the line of applicants. Again, why is there such strident opposition when the vast majority of the country is now in favor of reform?
When I asked a Republican senator this question, he was surprisingly honest: “Fear,” he said. Fear of an American future that looks different from the present.
Editor's Note: In April, Associated Press representatives said they would no longer recommend the term "illegal immigrant" in the influential AP Style Guide used by many in print media. However, the term is still used by many media outlets and in common parlance. Our hope is that more will follow the AP's lead and rethink its usage.
As the Senate recently passed long awaited immigration overhaul and the bill now heads to the House, the long-standing national discourse on the issue of immigration will likely heat up again. As we participate in these discussions, my hope is that we, especially as Christians tasked with peacemaking and reconciling, will find ways to build bridges instead of erecting walls. As a first step in this bridge building, I pray that once and for all, we will stop using the term “illegal immigrant.”
1. The term “illegal immigrant” is a misleading and dishonest term, which violates the 9th commandment.
The term “illegal immigrant” lends one to believe that an individual is currently doing something illegal, or that their presence in our country is an ongoing, illegal act. In regards to undocumented workers, this is simply not the case. The crime that undocumented workers commit is a violation of “8 U.S.C. § 1325: Entry of Alien at improper time or place,” a federal misdemeanor. Their crime is crossing the border at the improper time and place; however, they are not currently doing anything that is illegal.
Therefore, using this term that has a less-than-honest connotation, is a violation of the commandment to not “bear false witness against our neighbors.”
At the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham last week, I saw Marco Williams’ new documentary, The Undocumented, which tracks migrants as they hike into the United States across the border between Mexico and Arizona, trying to escape the detection of border patrol agents, and trying to survive the deadly heat of the Sonoran desert.
The documentary follows a young man, Marcos Hernandez, as he tries to find his father, Francisco, who was last seen in the desert walking for days in the 120-degree summer heat. Francisco left their home in Mexico with a coyote — man he paid $2,000 to lead him across the border — to make enough money to pay for his son’s expensive dialysis treatments. But he never called; he never returned. The coyote reported that he left Francisco in the desert because he was sick and couldn’t keep up with the other migrants in the group. Marcos fears the worst — that his father died of dehydration, of heat exhaustion. But to confirm the death he has to find the body.
The filmmaker focuses on the morgue in Tucson, Ariz., where the medical examiner investigates human remains, looking for clues that would help identify the dead in order to return whatever is left to family members and friends, to provide some kind of closure, to honor the dead with a burial.
In the film, Marcos won’t believe his dad is dead until he can see his dead body, or whatever is left of his body — a skull, teeth, his rib cage. He will not believe unless he can see.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). That’s what Thomas says to the other disciples about the resurrected Jesus; and what Thomas says about needing to see the body reminds me of the story of Marcos, about the need to see in order to believe.