Refugees, (Il)legal Immigrants, and the Christian

I never would have supposed that immigration had the power to become such a central issue of the upcoming presidential election. As a Christian and as someone who ministers weekly inside a community of immigrants, many of whom I suspect are undocumented, I have been horrified by the amount of collective hate that has been slung toward Hispanics and Latinos in recent weeks.[1]

I have no intention of making a political statement here. Instead, speaking as one Christian to another, I would like to share my opinion about how we should be responding to the immigrants among us (both those who are here legally, and those who are not).

Let me start with what should be most obvious: hate is never the proper Christian response to another human being.

I will go even further, though. At the core of all the cries to “send those illegals back where they came from,” I clearly see two motivations: fear and selfishness. Neither motivation is holy.

I hear the claims that these immigrants are going to steal American jobs and/or become freeloading burdens on the American tax payer. I hear the complaints that they are the source of our drug problems and the perpetrators of innumerable violent crimes. I could spend this post arguing against these fears, quoting statistics and economists, but I want to make a more important point. Even if such fears were justified, prioritizing our own comfort and prosperity over the needs of the hopeless and desperately poor is sinful.

We so easily place the blame for poverty on the poor themselves, never seeking to understand their situation. I hear us making many assumptions and pronouncements from a vantage point of self-protection and judgment, but I don’t hear us asking any compassion-driven questions.

Why, for instance, do we never ask why the Mexicans are coming? If a man comes unsanctioned into the U.S. because he is desperate to find employment to support his elderly parents or to feed his children, shouldn’t we acknowledge that his motive is noble? If a woman flees across the border to escape domestic violence, or to remove her children from a dangerous environment, or even simply to give them a chance for a decent education and a future, shouldn’t we admit that we would likely do the same? Who are we to indiscriminately label all undocumented immigrants “criminals” when we have no idea what their situation is, what they are trying to escape, who they are trying to save. The trip is not easy or without risk and the destination is neither welcoming nor ideal. I am confident that the reasons immigrants come are as varied as the individuals themselves. It is unfair and cruel to make generalized assumptions about those “lawbreaking” Mexicans (and Guatemalans and Peruvians and…..) without ever seeking to understand.

As humans, our natural inclination is to fear people who are different than we are, people who are in any way foreign to us. So often that fear grows into outright hate. Yet, Jesus calls us to show hospitality to the foreigner. He asks us to invite the stranger in, to feed the homeless and clothe the naked.[2] When I look at how hideous the absence of hospitality can be, I understand why God places such an emphasis on practicing it.[3]

History is filled with examples of people shutting out others in need because of fear and because of their selfish desire to safeguard their own standard of living.

Did you know that in the years leading up to WWII many Jews could have left Europe if they had only had a place to go? Increasingly they saw the danger. In the beginning they had the liberty and the resources to go elsewhere, but almost no one would let them in. Countries around the world were closing their doors to European Jews, or at the very least, not opening them any wider. No one wanted to be overrun with Jewish immigrants who would either steal jobs or create an economic burden on the state. And, as Australia actually put in words, no one wanted to import a racial problem. Here in America, we obstinately stuck to our quota system which strongly limited the number of immigrants who could come from any one country in a given year. We actually even refused a suggested program that would have allowed 20,000 German-Jewish children to find refuge in the U.S. In the end, only 800,000 Jews found sanctuary outside of Europe, leaving behind another SIX MILLION to die.[4] I get physically ill every time I think about it.

Here’s a more recent example. Perhaps you read the article that came out last month around the anniversary of Katrina which tells of 100 RTA employees who volunteered to remain on duty in New Orleans during the storm? When they, along with about 200 of their family members (including elderly and children), were flooded out of the headquarter building where they had expected to safely ride out the hurricane, they were left with no choice but to make their way across the Crescent City Bridge in search of higher ground. This group of 300 African Americans, escorted by a couple of African American police officers, made the difficult trek across to the New Orleans suburb, Gretna, where they were met with hostility and guns. Racial prejudice, coupled with fears for personal safety and a complete unwillingness to share their comfortable stash of resources, caused the people of Gretna to militantly turn away a group of people in dire need…CHILDREN in need. [5]

Today, we are watching a similar situation play out as thousands of Syrian refugees pour into Europe where they are being met with a wide range of welcomes. Whereas Germany is setting an example of compassion and aid, Hungary has been building a wall to keep refugees out; and other countries, such as Denmark, have been tightening restrictions on immigration. Even in Germany, anti-immigrant factions have perpetrated at least 340 attacks on refugee camps this year.

As of this writing, it is estimated that 1 out of every 122 people in the world is in need of some sort of refuge or asylum (largely due to ISIS, the Taliban, and various civil wars).[6] In America, sanctioned immigration is still controlled by a quota system. Only about 1500 Syrian refuges are going to be admitted into the U.S. this year (out of the estimated 4 million who have been displaced from their homes). Unlike our fellow Europeans, we are not likely to encounter a Syrian refugee in our midst. The Syrians may be out of our reach to provide long term friendship and care, but I can guarantee that every city, every community holds displaced persons, foreigners, sojourners, “aliens.” Let’s stop screaming that they don’t belong here. Instead, let’s reach out to them with love and concern.

As we become more aware of the darkness in our world, we must choose how to respond. I hope we don’t choose to simply look away.

We need to pray, but we need to do more than pray. We need to donate, but we need to do more than donate. We need to step up and step out. We need to do more than give lip service to the idea of being salt and light, of being the hands and feet of Jesus. We need to each find someone we can walk alongside. Go into the distressed neighborhoods. Make friends. Listen to the struggles. Ask how you can help. Invite people into your lives. Volunteer at the troubled schools. Let a desperate person know that they matter and that you care.

The problem is too big for me and too big for you, but if we all share real hospitality with one person, one family, if we all join our voices and actions together on the side of mercy and justice, then light “will break forth like the dawn” (Isaiah 58:8).

 

 

Notes:

[1] Here is one example of hundreds of hateful comments about immigrants in general and Hispanic immigrants in particular that have been posted in the past month underneath related news articles:

We used to love the Mexican people……Only now, since you can’t distinguish an undocumented, illegal, law breaking, criminal invader/immigrant from a decent Mexican American, who came here using the legal entry, we tend to hate them all. The Mexicans who came to this country through the legal immigration process should be irate with all the Mexican parasites sneaking over the border. Except perhaps in California, Oregon and Washington and D.C., where all the sanction crazies live… the rest of us would rather not see another Mexican for as long as we live.

(posted by “Actuality” in the comments section of http://news.yahoo.com/eu-says-world-facing-worst-refugee-crisis-since-113228429.html)

[2] Mathew 25:35-40; Luke 3:11; Luke 14:12-14

[3] See also Isaiah 58:6-7; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Timothy 5:10;

[4] Ayer, Eleanor H. Parallel Journeys. Aladdin Paperbacks, 2000. pp. 33-35.

[5] http://news.yahoo.com/escape-from-new-orleans–as-waters-rose–a-white-suburb-across-the-mississippi-closed-a-key-bridge-to-fleeing-residents-215830472.html.

[6] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/refugee-crisis-six-charts-that-show-where-refugees-are-coming-from-where-they-are-going-and-how-they-are-getting-to-europe-10482415.html

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7 thoughts on “Refugees, (Il)legal Immigrants, and the Christian

  1. Please forgive my long response. First time reader… tracked your blog through the links. I am encouraged by your heart, and this response is as much in reaction to you Nov 20 post as this one.

    I visited a church near Seattle, WA back on July 4, 1999. The preacher there that day told a personal story about how he and a few ministers at Univ of Wash watched the nightly news as the 1979 Iran hostage situation unfolded. They were campus ministers at UW, but moved deeply by world events and fearful about enemies of our nation. They prayed on those issues and asked God how he might use some campus ministers at UW to help with the world’s problems.

    After a couple of days, one of the ministers had a brilliant idea. It occurred to him that as big a school as UW was, there might be some Iranian students on campus. They should look them up and see if there were some special needs these Christians might serve.

    Sure enough, they found two young ladies from Iran hiding out in their apartment afraid to come out for fear the Americans would kill them – not an unsubstantiated fear! Suddenly these Christian boys had the difficult task of winning the trust of these Muslim girls, which wasn’t too hard considering the girls had no choice. The boys began shopping for them and escorting them to various destinations. In a few weeks time, their Christian witness began convicting the women.

    Then one of the women was baptized.

    Problem was that translated into a certain death sentence for her when she returned home. So the race was on to apply for political/religious asylum. But the boys soon discovered that the US federal government was in no mood to grant asylum to Iranian girls! They had to fight it out in court!

    Fight, they did. And in the end, they won their case. The young lady who was baptized was finally saved from going home. In time, she became a US citizen too. She also went on to earn a Ph.D.

    I tell this story because it resonates with your posts, in my mind. The world is up in flames around us. Love defeats terrorism (I John 4:18). Getting stuck in your apartment is not the answer; love is. And this story opens the imagination to possibilities that you might actually get to play a part in the drama of the world stage and affect a blow for the Kingdom of God and the LOVE of his son!

    Love the blog.

    I will be back.

    Blessings from Lubbock, Texas

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, Agent X, for sharing this beautiful story with me. I wish more Christians could hear it! I, too, believe that there are so many purposeful ways we can minister to others in Jesus’ name, but that we fail to look beyond our own lives (and churches) to see all the hurting people who will never come to us. I know how guilty I am of this.

      In regards to refugees, I know of a family here where I live who “adopted” a Cambodian refugee family (a mom and 4 young children) into their own family about 30 years ago. The family lived with them for a season, eventually moving into a place of their own, but this family supported them and educated the children all the way through college. They spend all their holidays together, and their 3 children and the 4 Cambodian children consider each other brothers and sisters. One of the Cambodian boys grew up and returned to Cambodia as a missionary.

      I would love to do the same. My family and I have been praying that God will give us a refugee family to adopt, as well.

      I have been following your blog for a couple of weeks now and appreciate your heart for the homeless! Many blessings to you!

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Fat Beggars School of Prophets and commented:
    My sister, BrookeM, reminds us today that our Christian responsibility to love others is an on-going part of God’s plan for our world, despite our fears or how distasteful it can seem. Please give her your time and attention today, and then talk to God about his plan for your life – your church, your home, your budget, your car, your computer, your bit of influence in God’s creation for his Kingdom cause.

    Like

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