Tuesday, November 17, 2009

“For You Were Once a Stranger: Immigration in the US through the Lens of Faith”

-an NC Council of Churches resource

review by Rev. Laura Barclay

An incredibly divisive issue over the last decade in America, the vitriol created by the immigration issue is rivaled only by that of the anger surrounding the health care reform debate. Perhaps putting a human face and hearing real stories about this issue might be the best place to start. On pages 36 and 37 of this resource, chronicler Daniel Grood recounts his stories working in Mexico providing pastoral care near the U.S. border. He states that many undocumented immigrants come from a part of Mexico where there are no jobs, and putting food on their children’s tables has become exceedingly difficult. One man, Mario, revealed that he is not crossing the border because he wants to break the law or even come to America. The economic conditions where he lives are so bad that he knows his family will die if he stays. At least if he crosses, obtains work, and can send back money, his family might live a little longer. However, his group is captured and chained, all while an over-head U.S. border patrol helicopter plays “La Cucaracha” while they run (37). Humiliated and lacking hope, they are transported back to Mexico. How did conditions get so bad?

The book explores the nonsensical evolution and increasing restrictions of immigration laws that clearly reflect the xenophobic culture of the times. For instance, did you know that at one point immigrant “epileptics” and “persons with physical and mental defects” were excluded from naturalization? And almost all Asians were barred from entry at another point in US history (54-55). Even more frustrating is the now-exorbitant waiting period for immigrants to become U.S. citizens: it’s up to 20 years in some cases (13). The explanations of significant, lengthy and painstaking hurdles through which immigrants must jump are not only head-scratching, but make it clear that our laws are actually preventing legal immigration that would help us track who is in our country. It was also helpful to learn that NAFTA destroyed Mexico’s economy along with ours, as American businesses moved from Mexico to find even cheaper labor abroad. This exodus of Mexican job mirrored ones from US manufacturing towns, and left thousands in northern Mexico without jobs (24).

Perhaps the most compelling argument for immigration reform for Christian readers comes in Chapter 7, with the statement, “The Gospel of Matthew says God in Jesus not only takes on human flesh and migrates into our world but actually becomes a refugee himself when he and his family flee political persecution and escape into Egypt [Matt 2:13-150]” (39). Jesus, Mary and Joseph were undocumented immigrants in the great nation of Egypt. Perhaps this experience motivates Jesus to say in Matthew 25, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me” [NRSV].

If Christians are to example the Good Samaritan, as Jesus demands, what are we to do next? The reflection questions throughout the book help the reader to focus their thinking. The book says that end goal should be for persons of faith to show their hospitality by demanding immigration reform that requires employers to treat workers fairly (34). Low wages and poor working conditions comprise the reality of economic slavery under which many undocumented immigrants are trapped. A majority of workers are paying into Medicare, Social Security and Federal Taxes to the tune of $50 billion in federal taxes from 1996 to 2003 (17). Despite the perception that undocumented immigrants are a drain on our system, statistics like these would show another side of the story. These workers are actually paying into a system they will never get to benefit from, and they risk deportation at any moment.

No one wants scores of unaccounted people in America. We must call for reform that allows hard working immigrants access to a path toward legal citizenship, and allows the US to have a more efficient, practical system. We are all children of God who must help our neighbors. If you are interested in this resource, go to the North Carolina Council of Churches website, http://www.nccouncilofchurches.org/ for more information.

1 comment:

  1. If this review makes you want to learn more, Chris Liu-Beers at the NC Council of Churches sent me the link below to be able to download and print the booklet "For Once You Were a Stranger." It can serve as an 8-week study guide for your church.