undocumented immigrants

Love Has No Borders: How Faith Leaders Resisted Alabama’s Harsh Immigration Law

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 Bordersis 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?

Our Stories To Tell

Vintage typewriter, Bartek Zyczynski/ Shutterstock.com
Vintage typewriter, Bartek Zyczynski/ Shutterstock.com

"We all have a story to tell."

These are the words that will greet my new elementary students as they enter my classroom this year.

I will tell them my story: who I am, what I do, when I was born, where I have lived, why I am a teacher, how I came to our school.

I will tell them this story: When I was their age, I carried a tattered journal, a Papermate pen, and a pocket dictionary everywhere I went. I wrote about the people, places, and things I saw with my eyes, heard with my ears, smelled with my nose, tasted with my tongue, and felt with my hands. I put down on paper the ideas and feelings that were floating around in my head and my heart. I was nerdy (and still am) ... but I was me!

"Will you tell me your story?" I will ask them.

Rep. Steve King: It's Time to Tame the Tongue

Rep. Steve King, photo by republicanconference / Flickr.com
Rep. Steve King, photo by republicanconference / Flickr.com

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.

On Scripture: Fear and Wisdom In The Immigration Debate

Immigration reform rally, Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com
Immigration reform rally in 2010 in Washington, D.C., Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

They have many labels. Undocumented immigrants. Illegal Immigrants. Illegal Aliens. Wetbacks. Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, recently suggested that most of them are “drug mules.” Some have even called them “terrorists.” But few are known by their real names or treated as people with real lives.

Most of them live at the edges of the society, under inhumane and dangerous conditions, often separated from their loved ones. For some it may be a choice. However, a vast majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are driven to such extremes by factors beyond their control — political crisis, drug-related violence, famine, or eviction from their own homes at gunpoint. Theirs is a story of displacement, of being forced to flee their homes and take risks few would under normal circumstances. They are victims, not the offenders they are often made out to be. Still, for many, it is a story of being treated by the border security as violent criminals, being stripped of their clothes and dignity and separated from their families and traumatized in detention centers. It is also a story of ostracizing and exploitation by parts of the society. The labels and stereotypes about them “otherize” them in ways that prevent their full participation in the society. Injustices like these are the reason why NETWORK’s Nuns On The Bus have been touring across the country speaking out for immigration reform.

Churches Shouldn't Be Think Tanks

church front doors, natamc / Shutterstock.com
church front doors, natamc / Shutterstock.com

I remember the first time I met someone without papers. They were 12 or 13, like me, and pretty unremarkable and brown. I can still feel the tension between my intense curiosity about this boy and my disappointment about him. Going from “I wonder if they have feelings like us” and “he doesn’t have a green card but does he have a mother who loves him” to “he’s kind of normal” and “this is not what I expected a real-life outlaw to look like” in a few quick minutes. 

As life moved on and I made more friends, I met more people who were undocumented. I met grandmothers and little children and some college kids. My relationship with this issue kept transforming, from “I can say I have a friend who’s undocumented SO I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, OK?” to “I have friends, some of whom don’t have papers, and I’d like to government to be nice to everybody.” The more undocumented immigrants I met, the less they seemed different at all.  

It happened that way with abortion, too. And gay marriage. Start out with a simplistic interpretation of the Bible and a black-and-white opinion, befriend somebody at odds with that opinion, the opinion changes. Time after time. I was against women pastors —thanks to Paul and bad exegesis — until I realized that my mother had been spiritually leading people for 20 years and most of them had turned out OK. 

I’m sure that if I run for president in 20 years, somebody is going to find a paper I wrote for my Biblical Interpretation class decrying the moral state of our socialized medical system, contrast that with my current view, and label me a flip-flopper. And they would be right, which would have worried me three years ago. But I’ve met some flip-floppers since then, and they’re pretty decent people. So I’m okay with that now. 

To be honest, I don’t really trust people who have had the same opinions their entire lives. Which is probably why I don’t trust much Evangelical theology, these days. I think it’s natural to have your views about the world change as you experience more of the world, and I wish it were easier to be honest about that when it happened. I wish it were encouraged. 

Conservative Congressman Targets DREAMers

Despite the progress on immigration reform being made in the Senate, this week offered an unfortunate reminder of the uphill battle any legislation faces in the House of Representatives.

During it’s consideration of legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security, the House passed an amendment, authored by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, to defund the administration’s efforts of prosecutorial discretion. Specifically, it would require DHS to deport young, undocumented immigrants known as “DREAMers.” The amendment also puts at risk anyone who qualifies for prosecutorial discretion under the June 2011 John Morton Memos while in deportation proceedings.

Essentially, this amendment would categorize all undocumented immigrants aside violent criminals who must be deported if encountered by law enforcement, regardless of their circumstances or contributions.

Nothing Happens in Washington — Except For This

U.S. Capitol Building, Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock.com
U.S. Capitol Building, Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock.com

What I have heard after visiting 18 cities in six weeks is that people around the country believe that nothing can happen in Washington, D.C. They are basically right. So I am very grateful today to report the one exception.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new comprehensive immigration reform bill with a bipartisan vote. Did you hear that: “bipartisan.” Amid heartbreaking news of the destruction, grief, and heroism we have seen in Moore, Okla., from one of the worst tornados in American history, millions of Americans found a reason to be hopeful.

This historic immigration bill now goes to the full Senate, where it has a real chance of passing and changing the lives of 11 million aspiring Americans. These are the “strangers” talked about throughout the Bible, and about whom Jesus said, in Matthew 25: how we treat them is how we treat him. That realization has caused a literal biblical conversion in the evangelical Christian community, which with the help of law enforcement officials and business leaders has done the impossible — changed Washington, D.C.

Self-interests, special interests, and even conflicting principles all put this life-changing proposal in grave danger. But in a town defined by gridlock, a group of eight senators crafted a bipartisan proposal that passed with only minor change. The bill reflects agreements reached by the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce; imagine that. It isn’t perfect and no single legislator got everything she or he wanted, but the key elements that many of us have been fighting for are intact. That really is a triumph of the common good.

Now, I am asking you to write your senators and ask them to support this bill on the Senate floor.

Welcoming Christ by Welcoming the Stranger

The night was cold and dark as the family approached the border. Ahead of them were miles of desert that would test their will and drain their stamina. What they were doing defied the law. But they were a family, and families will do anything for the sake of their children.

The law they defied was that of Herod. The family: Joseph, Mary and the Christ-child.

As Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, let us remember that the life that ended on the cross began on the road. This Easter, let us remember that Christ the Savior began his life as an immigrant, fleeing the land where he was born to escape Herod’s wrath.

Easter is a holiday of new beginnings. It welcomes a new season. It is a time to start fresh. At the heart of Easter is a magnificent reservoir of grace. Of this holiday, Katherine Lee Bates reflected, “It is the hour to rend thy chains, the blossom time of souls.” Easter is a time to set people free, fix things that are broken, watch souls blossom — all for glory of the risen Christ.

My DACA Story

Ivone Guillen / Sojourners
Ivone Guillen / Sojourners

Introduction from Lisa Sharon Harper: Every once in a great while you meet someone who carries in their very body the scars of injustice that we talk about so much at Sojourners. These scars leave permanent reminders of the profound need for every follower of Jesus to follow him in word and deed. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Ivone Guillen. As Sojourners’ Immigration Campaigns and Communications Associate, Ivone has worked tirelessly for the passage of just immigration reform for two years. As a formerly undocumented immigrant, she bears the scars of our unjust immigration system and has experienced the healing that came from changes in immigration policy last year. Please read Ivone’s story. It reflects the stories of millions of people in church pews across the country; people made in the image of God, people waiting for that image to be fully recognized and set free inside our borders.

I remember clearly the day I heard the announcement on deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) as I felt an overwhelming surge of emotions in that one moment. A path to opportunity, however fragile and short-term, had finally been created for undocumented young people wanting to become full members of American society.

As I sat on the sofa on the morning of June 15 in front of the television and next to my computer, I felt anxious, excited, and dazed at the same time. There I was, listening to one of the biggest announcements ever made in my lifetime, and it directly impacted me. It was a surreal moment since I had been working with the advocacy community for almost two years and had seen difficult developments take place at the state level on the issue. Then and there, I felt that all of my work was paying off and that change could be achieved with enough persistence and pressure. It was a moment that most people wish to live and see, especially those who have worked in the movement for decades but seldom experience the ultimate triumphs of slow processes.

John McCain Gets Tough on Immigration

Photo credit: Alan Freed / Shutterstock.com

One angry constituent asked repeatedly where the “dang fence” that McCain had promised was. The senator turned to a chart illustrating how much fence had been constructed (hint: it’s a lot), and the man shot back that it was not a fence. “Oh, it’s not a fence?” McCain challenged. “OK, it’s a banana. We put up a banana with about $600 million of appropriations.”

Wow. Talk about laying down the law.

McCain even alluded to the work of the faith community on changing the message on immigration. Why are we not going to deport immigrants who have been living in the country for over 40 years? “Because we are a Judeo-Christian nation,” McCain affirmed. Mass deportation is contrary to our values.

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