Over the last few years, the number of immigrants coming to the United States from Mexico has become an increasingly contentious political issue. Politicians have flirted with comprehensive immigration reform at times, but the explosive nature of the issue in the public’s mind has mostly kept politicians from doing anything substantial at a Federal level. Now states like Arizona have passed new laws to combat the problem. Other politicians, like a Republican candidate in Alabama, has used the issue to rile his constituents when he promised only to offer driver’s license tests in English. This has left illegal immigrants who have lived here for years in a difficult position. They feel at home in the US, and to send them back to Mexico would feel like exile. It would tear families apart and even hurt our economy. Recently, President Obama and Mexican President Calderon met to discuss among other things immigration reform. I hope it went well. Our country needs immigration reform at this systemic level.
As a Christian, I feel it is important for me to talk about this polarizing political issue. I’ve witnessed what appears to be an increasing hostility and even bitter resentment towards Mexican immigrants, and this sort of attitude has no place in the church. Here are a few reasons why, we as the church should value, speak up for, and seek to be in relationship with immigrants, Mexican or otherwise:
1. Jesus was an immigrant. While Jesus was just a small child, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee from Palestine to Egypt because of the genocidal decree issued by Herod. He spent many years in Egypt, and then his family finally returned to Palestine after Herod died. When God deigned to put on humanity, it was in the cultural dressings of an illegal immigrant. Not only is God not far from those on the margins of society, he himself was on the margins of society in the person of Jesus.
2. All humans are created in the image of God. Jesus exhibited an incredible ability to cut through the prejudices of society. He loved the people that no one else seemed to be able to love. Paul said the gospel tears down every dividing wall that keeps people at odds with one another, whether racial, social, gender, or economic.
3. Ancient Israel was meant to be a place hospitable to the alien, sojourner, and immigrant. After Israel entered Palestine, God commanded them to care for immigrants and wanderers, because that’s what they themselves had been for so many years. (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34)
4. We are all immigrants and sojourners in the world. As Christians, our primary allegiance is to God and to God’s kingdom. We are first and foremost citizens of heaven. Often times immigrants understand this intuitively because they are outside the dominant power culture in the country to which they come. White Christians living in the suburbs of America (like myself) are wise to recognize this implicit advantage immigrants have in living as though they are aliens and sojourners in the world. There is much we can learn from them. (1 Peter 1)
Immigration reform is complicated. I get that we need laws that govern our borders. We need rules for how people enter our country, and they need to be enforced. Currently, those laws do not work well, and that’s why immigration reform is so crucial. The system is broken and it needs to be fixed. I hope it includes some pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have lived here for many years and are more at home in this country than their country of origin.
In the meantime, I plan to love and welcome anyone and everyone, regardless of legal status. My allegiance is first and foremost to the Kingdom of God, and in God’s government acceptance is preeminent. Join me in loving immigrants and learning from them as we hope for immigration reform that results in a more just and equitable treatment of all people in this country.