Suspicion. Illegal. Alien. These are the lens in which many Hispanic Americans are approached. I would venture to say that whenever people think about immigration, their minds automatically focus on the Hispanic population and particularly those who are from Mexico. We know, as some of our interviews have already revealed however, that people are migrating to this country all of the time, both legally and illegally.
My eyes were opened to all of the possible faces of immigrants this summer when I read Time magazine’s article entitled, “Not Legal Not Leaving.” This article is a must read for anyone who cares enough to have an intelligent dialog on the topic of immigration.
There were several critical articles included in that magazine, and I was also specifically drawn to a map which outlined the parameters for becoming a legal American citizen. I have searched online and could not find it to make available to you here, so I contacted Time Magazine to purchase the June 25, 2012 United States issue. It cost me $5, but the information is worth so much more than that if you are interested in making the purchase.
What I have learned from my limited personal experience, is immigration is a very complicated issue. I do not use the word “complicated” as code to let illegal immigrants off the hook. I use the word “complicated” to state the reality as matter-of-factly as I see it. For three years, I worked in the Office of Admissions for the United States Naval Academy. My primary responsibility was to identify and assist candidates (potential students) through the admissions process. The Naval Academy’s mission is to prepare young men and women to serve as officers in the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Candidates must be United States citizens when arriving on Induction Day.
I personally had several conversations with young Hispanic students who were articulate, smart, and very interested in serving as officers in the United States military, that I could not help because they were not legal citizens, and there was no way for them to become legal prior to Induction Day. I tried searching the internet and making phone calls to point them in the right direction to get the process started, and often felt like a child walking through a forest at night. I simply didn’t know where to turn. I just glanced upon an article today where a Staff Sergeant was awarded American citizenship. It takes approximately eight years for an enlisted person to earn that military rank! How is it possible for a person to honorably serve this country for that many years without being recognized as an American citizen?
Again, I am not justifying people’s choices or actions, or those of their parents. I’m simply providing some back story on an issue I believe is often painted with too broad of stroke in the political arena. And unfortunately, too many white evangelical sisters and brothers have jumped on the bandwagon making assumptions and drawing conclusions about an issue in which they have not taken the time to educate themselves.
Soong-Chan Rah makes an excellent point in his book The Next Evangelism:
Too often the future of America evangelism is viewed as a battle over the heart and soul of middle America (i.e. white America), when the restoration of faith in American culture may actually depend on the ongoing growth of immigrant and ethnic minority Christian communities. So what is the response of the white evangelical community to the changing face of America? So far, it has been one of conspicuous silence on the issue of immigration…How much of our view on immigration is driven by a political and social agenda rather than a biblical one? How does anti-immigrant, white privilege bias appear among American Christians (IVP, 2009, page 75)?
The response of American Christians on the topic of immigration:
Silence. Partisan Politics. Birth Privilege. Bias.
Here in lies the real issue: Immigration is a source of tension for all of us because it is a sacred space where Christians are reminded that we live in two worlds and we have responsibilities in both. On earth, we have a responsibly to submit to authority God has placed before us, this includes the government whether we like in or not, regardless of who is in charge of the Senate and Congress, regardless of whether the Justice is labeled liberal or conservative, regardless of whether the President is black, gay, woman, Democrat or Republican…the call is still the same: submit to those in authority (Heb. 13:17, 1 Pet. 2:13-14, Rom. 13:1-7). The governmental authority has provided laws to protect the citizens of the land, and whenever possible and biblical justice is in order, we should obey those laws.
Likewise, we see several biblical passages about God’s care for the widow, orphaned, poor, and alien (Num. 15:15, Psalm 146:9, Deut. 10:18-19, Lev. 19:33-34, Eph. 2:11-13). Many immigrants check at least one of those boxes. We also notice an interesting language shift in the New Testament. The language changes from naming people groups as “aliens” in relationship to God’s chosen people, Israel, but rather “stranger” and “neighbor.” It has been recommended that we read Daniel Carrol’s book entitled, “Strangers in the Land: A Six-Week Devotional Guide on Immigration, the Church, and the Bible” to this topic.
Going back to the Bible, there is a lot of tension present in The Good Samaritan Parable (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus closes the story and teaching with a simple question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers (v. 36)? The expert (emphasis mine) in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him [the stranger traveling in the land]. Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise (v 37).’” Like the righteous “expert” of the law who wanted to justify himself, we (as privileged by birth American Christians) have to get pass the point of picking and choosing our neighbors. In Christ, we don’t have that luxury. Jesus says that we are to show mercy to strangers in our land. With this parable, he teaches that we are be intentional about what we choose to see, take pity on those who are downtrodden, provide healing if necessary, sacrifice some of our own comfort, care for the needs of our neighbors, and bring hope to what seems like a hopeless situation until our neighbor is restored to full health. This is the example of the Samaritan. This is the message of Christ. This is the hope of the gospel.
In light of this tension, how can we have honest, biblical, and life-changing conversations on the topic of immigration? What are your thoughts on the Time magazine article? How can we live as loyal citizens of our land, and agents of God’s grace and mercy towards our immigrant neighbors?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012