We are living in historic times. The Confederate flag that was placed on the South Carolina Capitol dome 54 years ago to protest the civil rights movement has finally come down. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that victims of housing discrimination do not have to show intentional bias, and the court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage because they violated fundamental constitutional rights.
Victories in the battles against discrimination do not come easily or quickly, and they test our resolve to keep the faith during the lowest points of our struggles. While we celebrate the dismantling of institutional discrimination, we remain keenly aware of important challenges ahead with regard to discrimination — even hatred — against immigrants.
Many of us engaged in the long fight for immigration reform may be questioning whether we are at one of our lowest points, whether we can influence the negative political and legal trajectories of the recent immigration debates. The answer to both is “yes.”
The primary challenge facing immigration laws in the United States is not people crossing the border without authorization. In fact, a recent study from Pew Research Center shows that fewer people than ever are attempting to cross the border.
Rather, our dilemma with immigration is that people who are already here — some for several decades — without proper documentation face substantial difficulties in trying to integrate and contribute to the country.
In my classroom, there is a little boy from Honduras. He speaks Spanish — that is the language of his heart — but he is learning English and tries with all his heart to learn new words and strange phrases that will allow him to live in his new world here. He is 9 years old, with dark hair cut straight across his forehead in a wonderfully crooked line. He has deep brown eyes the color of a plowed field, eyes that sparkle like starlight at night off a pool of calm water. He has big dimples that catch teardrops when he laughs until he cries, or when he cries until the sadness in his heart resides. He has a broad smile that is sometimes mischievous but most times full of joy.
Sometimes I wonder ... what is he thinking as he closes his eyes at the end of the day, or opens them at dawn?
"I hope my new world will embrace me," he thinks tenderly, "and not call me an illegal alien ... and not try to tear me apart from my Aunt ... and not try to tear me apart ... and not place me in the shadows ... and not make me a shadow.
Mami, can you hear me in the dawn? Will my words reach you over the land, over the land, to the valley, between the mountains, to La Esperanza, to Honduras? Help me, Mami. Please. I don't want to be a shadow here. ...
I loved Paddington, the new movie based on the Michael Bonds books about an immigrant bear who arrives in London from darkest Peru. Paddington has no resources other than his faith that he will be welcomed with open arms. Sadly, his experience begins like that of most undocumented immigrants to the European or American shores – he is rejected and ignored. But this is a playful movie with a happy ending that celebrates what wonderful things happen to the Brown family when they allow Paddington into their hearts and home.
Admittedly, Paddington is a handful – a wild animal unfamiliar with modern conveniences, whose commitment to being polite does not prevent unfortunate accidents that fulfill the nervous Mr. Brown’s worst fears. As the family learns to love this accident-prone bear, however, their love for each other is renewed. The villain (yes, of course, there’s a villain!) is defeated, Paddington finds a home, and the Brown’s problems are cured by loving the alien in their midst.
Does this fictional account of immigration with a happy ending have any bearing (pun intended!) on our real world immigration crisis? This movie invites us to wonder whether our fears of the changes that immigration brings are unfounded. After all, many European and American citizens fear the waves of legal and illegal immigration in Europe and the United States. We know all too well that these uninvited guests are radically changing racial, religious, and cultural demographics. Immigrants disrupt labor patterns, burden welfare systems, and tax the criminal justice system. And unlike the movie’s cartoon explosions, floods, and fires, the violence in our world that seems fomented in and among immigrant communities is all too real a threat.
Or so the story goes that stokes our fears. But is the story true?
Think about this: why would anyone travel thousands of miles on a journey that many do not survive — except for the hope that their destination (the U.S.) is significantly safer than where they currently live? I cannot imagine taking such risks unless my current circumstances left me with no other options besides death. I have met many people who are undocumented in the U.S. They are not criminals. They are not economic threats. They are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and sometimes teenagers trying to escape untold violence and oppression. They are our neighbors, community members, and friends. They are people simply trying to do what it takes to survive.
Our immigration system is broken. It is hard for anyone to say otherwise. But I think our values are broken too. When gun-toting vigilantes are able to successfully threaten buses full of children put at risk by their parents because it was a better option than staying at home, something is desperately wrong with our values. We can say their home country needs to get its act together, but that does not address the hostile response in the U.S. by some people. Politics aside, the morality of refusing such people violates the values of both my Christian faith and my understanding of how my country was founded by persecuted refugees seeking freedom.
Comprehensive immigration reform is about real people with real blood flowing through real veins. It is not about numbers, other than the fact that the U.S. grants the lowest number of visas to the countries with some of highest homicide rates in the world — violence that the U.S. government has had a hand in creating over the past several decades. This is not about following the law, because our current immigration laws are simply unjust and violate the values upon which this country was founded: a country of immigrants in which “all people are created equal.” It is about God’s children desperately seeking refuge in a country that boasts itself as the “land of the free” and the land of hope and promise.
On Aug. 7 we lit a single white candle at the prayer service welcoming Rosa Robles Loreto into sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz. Almost 90 days later, that candle has been joined by five others, representing Luis Lopez Acabal, Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, Francisco Aguirre, Francisco Perez Cordova, and Arturo Hernandez. We are grateful that Beatriz was just granted a stay so that she could return to her home with her two small children, but the rest all remain in sanctuary.
As we approach Rosa’s 90th day in sanctuary, its time to replace the nearly burned down candle, but the light of radical Christian hospitality continues to not only burn bright, but spread throughout the nation.
While much of the country was receiving election returns and news of a red tide sweeping across the nation, here in Oregon we have more of a white, black, and brown problem.
One way to look at Oregon was that the “progressive” blues all won — our Democratic incumbents were all re-elected for U.S. Congress and governor, and statewide measures to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana sailed to an easy victory.
So, from a distance it looks like the dream of the Bill Clinton 90s is still alive in Portland.
I’ve been here more than a year now, planting a church and beginning to work with neighborhood partners, and have come to realize that the dream for truly “progressive” values — like immigration reform and bridging the gap in ever increasing income inequalities — is more like a bad dream that won’t go away.
On Sept. 25 Francisco Córdoba entered into Sanctuary at St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church in Tucson, Ariz., after the threat of deportation had been looming over his family's life for eight long months.
It has been an honor for those of us here at St. Francis to receive the blessing of Francisco and his family and to offer them a place where they can begin to see a solution to our broken immigration system. It was even more important that we receive the amazing blessing that they bring to us.
I absolutely love to read, and anyone who is familiar with Oscar Wilde I’m sure recognizes the quote I have chosen for my title; “To define is to limit.” From the moment I read this in The Picture of Dorian Gray, I thought to myself: this is me; this is how I see the world. Now I know people argue with this quote because a definition is a precise statement of what a word means. But just think of “define” as “label.” When you put a label on someone, you classify and constrict them, which limits them from breaking out their true potential.
For example, when we are constantly talked about as illegal aliens, we are given the image of harsh criminals. This image affects our self esteem and our confidence. Some, like Aly Wane, start to believe that there is something evil inside of them. It also limits us from reaching out to the American people and proving to them that we are not here to cause any harm. We only want the opportunity of seeking a brighter future. We are not criminals. We have done what we had to do, what any human would do, to seek a violence-free life, to keep our families together, or, like me, to pursue an education. I am one of 11 million, and each one of us has a different story to tell.
Midnight. 80 degrees. Palm trees, illuminated by the airport lights, lining the street. My dream was now a reality. Germany to Miami. I did it. I moved to America!
When I was 12, my family vacationed in upstate New York. From then on, I knew I wanted to live in America. When other children dreamed of becoming policemen, rock singers, and cowboys, my perpetual childhood dream was to become an American. I devoured books by German author Karl May, about an Apache warrior named Winnetou. His pride and honor started my fascination with this country.
I was 16 when I finished school in Germany, 17 when I finished school as an exchange student, and was 20 when I moved to Miami. I fell madly in love and we moved to Los Angeles. After some time, we moved to Detroit and got married. Then we broke up.
The breakup forced a brief pause as I unwillingly moved back to Germany to reset my visa. Before I left Detroit, I had set up an interview with another freight forwarder in Hamburg, under the condition that they would send me back to the U.S. I never, ever gave up on America — it was never, ever a consideration. Within ten days of arriving in Hamburg, I was at my new job at the German Freight Forwarder. Ten months later, I was back to my America — assigned to Houston.
When they moved me to Atlanta, I remarried. He was a contractor, and I quit my freight job so we could renovate houses together. Unfortunately, the relationship didn't work out. I thought I didn't need to worry about the visa situation because I was married to a U.S. citizen. Had our relationship worked out, I would have been on track for a temporary green card. I was single again, so I was in violation of my H1B visa — and of the five companies in Atlanta that I could have worked at, none of them had job openings.
I found a glimmer of hope — maybe I could switch to an entrepreneur visa. I quickly found an attorney to take my case, but later found out that he never filed anything.
America was a free country. There, freedom is everything. Growing up, that was the picture I had. America was the country where you’re free to do whatever you want.
It all changed when I turned 16. I woke up excited, ready to go to the DMV and get my driver’s license like all my friends were doing -- and then my parents told me that I was here illegally. I was undocumented. Reality sunk in. America was not a free country for me.
More than 100 faith leaders and immigration activists were arrested today during an act of civil disobedience outside of the White House. The activists were calling on President Barack Obama to take executive action to immediately stop deportations and to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors at the border.
"We have come to Washington, D.C., to tell to President Obama and Congress that kicking out suffering immigrant families and unaccompanied children is not the answer,” Bishop Minerva Carcaño, the United Methodist Bishop in Los Angeles, said. “Immediately stopping the deportations and extending due process to children escaping the violence of drug cartels, gangs and poverty is the just way to respond."
Other participants in the protest saw the struggle for immigration reform as part of a larger struggle for justice.
"As someone who has benefited from the courage and civil disobedience of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, I cannot stand idly by as I see unjust immigration laws damage our communities and our nation,” Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service, said. “It is a moral imperative that we take action now, particularly after the House Republican leadership has miserably failed to enact immigration reform that the majority of Americans roundly support."
When the Word becomes flesh, when the Son of God becomes one who bleeds, Jesus demonstrates God's humble solidarity with human nature from Adam and Eve onward, to the last person born in history.
This vulnerability of God for us, this identification of Jesus with our collective human frailty, changes our perspective on everything. In the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ, we at last see God and humanity with 20/20 vision.
Paul comes to this vision late in the day, well after the events of God in the flesh that reconcile the Father to God's creation. The vision of Jesus blinds him but when his eyes are healed, having seen Jesus, he sees God and humanity and the world very differently than he did before the vision of Christ that overwhelms him.
Years later, in a letter to the Corinthians, speaking about the church's worship with blest eyes he writes: "When we drink from the cup we ask God to bless, isn't that sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread we break, isn't that sharing in the body of Christ?"
[Gilberto] shared about the man who had been deported at 51 years old after living in the U.S. for 50 years. Because this man’s parents came to the U.S. when he was 6 months old, he knew no other home than that of the U.S. When he landed in Tijuana, it not only felt like a foreign land, but he didn’t even know Spanish.
He shared about the U.S. military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but after serving his time in war zones, was deported to Mexico.
He shared about the man who had recently been deported and was now desperately trying to return to his wife and young children in the U.S.
With each story, the layers of isolation, dehumanization, and misunderstanding began to be peeled back. We had all heard the stories of deportation in the headlines, but none of us had come face to face with the humans behind the story.
Mesmerized by this sage who cast such a strong aroma of Jesus, we asked, “What would you encourage us to say to our congregations regarding the plight of the immigrant?”
He quickly responded with words I’ll never forget:
“Tell them to read their Bibles. Jesus told us to care for three types of people: the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. It’s been 2,000 years and we’re still doing a pretty bad job.”
I am not a politician, so I’m not an expert on immigration policies.
I am not an economist, so I’m not an expert on the economic benefits or burdens of immigration.
But I am a public theologian. I try to understand how we can participate with God in setting things right, healing the world, and reconciling human beings with one another, with the world, and with God.
Sometimes a picture says it all.
Consider the 1963 picture of fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Ala., used against African-American students protesting racial segregation. Surely not our civil servants at their best.
Or the 1972 picture of the little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidentally dropped napalm on Trang Bang, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese troops. The world then saw how war could hurt children.
Now, in 2014, we see citizens of Murrieta, Calif., turning back buses of women and children headed for a federal processing center, a day after Mayor Alan Long told them to let the government know they opposed its decision to move recent undocumented immigrants to the local Border Patrol station.
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.
I first heard about Ruth Carmina Alvarez from my friend Kit Danley. Kit is the director of Neighborhood Ministries, a Christian community in downtown Phoenix that, over the past several years, has become increasingly focused on advocacy for undocumented immigrants in their neighborhood. It’s through Kit and her son Ian that I have become involved in discussions between evangelical pastors and many of our elected officials as we all seek a just, humane repair of our tragically broken immigration laws.
Carmina, a longtime Phoenix resident who is married to a citizen and has a citizen child, used a friend’s ID to get a job at a local KFC. She was picked up on immigration-related charges last August for working with “bad documents” but was released and had no subsequent contact with authorities. But on April 1 police came to her house and arrested her. She had just finished eight months of chemotherapy for Stage 3 breast cancer and was still very sick, waiting for surgery to remove the tumor. Carmina was charged with a class 4 felony, which could mean deportation. But more importantly, if she pleaded guilty, she would have been ineligible for any status adjustment should a comprehensive immigration reform bill pass.
I became interested in the politics of immigration in about the most innocent way possible for a student at a conservative Christian college — good ol’ fashioned evangelism. Working on an “impact team” with a local Columbian pastor, we had a few nights of evangelism in large apartment complex that was almost exclusively Honduran. On the first night, I struck up a conversation with a (very) drunk man sitting on a park bench named Carlos. Over the next few months our relationship grew, and we became close friends. Eventually, he had an experience with Christ that changed his life and we came brothers. As members of the same body, this now meant that his burdens were my burdens (Rom 12:15; Gal. 6:2). As Carlos was an undocumented immigrant living in the south, this means that it sure didn’t take long for my burden to become immigration reform
Months after our initial meeting, I looked down at my phone and saw that Carlos was calling—but as I picked it up, the voice on the other line didn’t sound anything like my friend. Instead of a loud and happy voice calling me gringo, the voice was strained, quiet, emotional. I tensed up at the sound of his quivering voice — recognizing immediately that something serious was wrong.
I recently looked out my front door and saw a woman sitting on the stairs of my patio. She was out of breath, sweaty, and had a large basket next to her full of cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. She looked desperately in need of some rest and refreshment. I’m pretty good at ignoring people in need (sadly), but when they come to your physical doorstep, I couldn’t imagine not stepping outside to check on this woman.
Opening our front door, she looked up at me with a bit of concern on her face thinking I might ask her to get off my patio. To calm her nerves, I simply sat down on the steps next to her and we exchanged warm smiles. Because she offered me a greeting in Spanish, I quickly realized she didn’t speak much English and I gave my best shot at speaking in Spanish. Over the next 10 minutes, we simply sat on my patio overlooking the main street of our neighborhood that runs in front of my house. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat in comfortable silence. Her name was Conchetta. Finally, I asked if I could get her some food and a cold drink and she quickly said, “yes.”
After taking in some needed nourishment, Conchetta, offered me a warm smile filled with the richness of humanity and gratitude, and leisurely went back to work assembling the best of our neighborhoods “trash” so she could bring some life to her family.
Our faith community has spent a lot of time over the years becoming students of our neighborhood. As a result, we discovered that roughly 60 percent of our neighborhoods’ residents are Latino (most are Mexican because of our proximity to the border), and a high percentage of those are undocumented. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that my new friend, Conchetta, is undocumented.