[Part 1 of 3 – to get us thinking, growing, and engaging the public sphere]
“I’ve told my friend Alejandro, if he’s scared, he can come and stay with us.” A friend at Grace told me this recently. Alejandro is his friend and is in the US illegally. The recent focus on the deportation has driven up fear for Alejandro and the millions like him.
My friend was the second person at Grace in the last three weeks who told me the same thing: they are willing to take someone in, so as to protect that person from forcible deportation.
These two brothers, I can quite confidently say, would vote on the conservative side of the political spectrum. They are mature (in Christian faith and in their age category). They are financially successful. In other words, they are not radicals by any political definition.
And yet here they are ready to defy an agency of their government. What’s going on?
It’s time to admit that we need to think afresh about persons who live in the US illegally. And by “we” I mean Believers. Christians. Christ-followers. It’s time for us to step back from the thought patterns of the Left or Right, and change the equation in our thinking. My intent here is to write to believers who consider themselves thoughtful. Let’s be more thoughtful and more creatively thoughtful than what we see in the world. Whether you identify with the Right or the Left, do you have room to grow in your thinking?
It seems to me that you can address a problem either by looking at the problem itself or by looking at the desired outcome. In this case, either you can focus on walls, wait times and quotas, etc., or you can see the bigger question: what kind of country do we want? What kind of atmosphere? What kind of future? What kind of people to populate it? What coheres with Scripture and with our calling? How do we treat people near us? How should we?
Let me make four preliminary comments, and then offer several areas in which we can “consider” better.
First, every sovereign nation has the right and duty to seek the best for its own citizens (though not at the expense of other countries, i.e. conquering a neighbor). A primary role of government is to maintain order and the ability to live peaceably within one’s borders. The other way to say this is to promote “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” and maintain true justice and human rights.
Second, every nation that flourishes walks in step with God’s ideals for human flourishing. For Christians this is so obvious as to be redundant. A nation that flourishes, then, will highlight justice and integrity, compassion and kindness. These are like 4 wheels on a car: each is needed to drive the car forward.
Third, the United States is based on opportunity, an industrious spirit, merit, ‘blind justice’ (citizens equal before the law because of equal human dignity). The American Dream is not so much prosperity as it is opportunity; not more possessions, but more decision-making power. America has always looked forward—to build a better life, a better nation, a better world. A city on a hill. A place where people dream of coming and achieving untapped potential. As we review the history of the North American Continent, 95% of us are of immigrant stock, and we built the US (and Canada) from wilderness to world leadership because we based it on freedom of the individual to flourish.
Fourth, the two major tragedies of our past are so humiliating because they contradict our ideals: The awful treatment of Native population, and the horror of slavery and its hangover. We have failed our ideals miserably in both these areas. And we’ve failed God’s ideals.
At this moment, we are in danger of allowing within our midst a third human tragedy on a national scale: our ultimate treatment &/or ‘solving’ of the question of the dilemma of undocumented persons in our midst, of illegal immigrants into our border.
The need is urgent for many Christians to think with more creativity. So let us consider together.
1) Consider the individual & their home
Think of a village or town in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America: Economic prospects are bleak (to put it mildly). The future for your family is tenuous. Mere existence is the daily grind. There’s very little “pursuit of happiness.”
Consider this: of the people in that village, who would embark on a 500-mile mile journey to a distant country for a better life? The ones with courage &/or resourcefulness, those who not only want a better life but who will work to make it happen.
What is their expectation as they start their journey? Perhaps they go with limited knowledge of VISA prospects but hope for the best. Or they go with encouragement of family in the US (“just come, we’ll figure it out”). Maybe there’s a handler who says “I can get you in, for a fee.” Or they know they’re coming illegally.
In those cases where a handler has promised entry: Often the handler will be crooked, and drop them off near the border, obviously without proper paperwork. At that point, the migrant has few choices: enter this dreamed-of land with no papers, remain in the borderland of Mexico (which is not home, has no job prospects, and has a high level of crime), or attempt to make the trek back to one’s home village. It’s not hard to see why people cross illegally.
Perhaps, back in the village, there’s no handler, but there’s a solo trek across Mexico to get to the US. There is a 1½-3 year waiting period to obtain a visa, as of 2011. [https://www.us-immigration.com/us-immigration-news/us-immigration/how-long-does-it-take-for-an-immigrant-to-legally-come-to-the-united-states/] This legal immigration road would entail multiple correspondences with the US embassy/consulate. This might just seem too long in a dead-end home where things never get better.
From our end it’s illegal immigration. I don’t think that’s the overwhelming concern in the village. They are willing to risk anything and everything on a better life. They know that if they get to the US they can get jobs and begin to change their lives.
Perhaps they should think more clearly about immigration status before leaving home. But can you blame them? Stay for a no hope existence; Go for a risky-but-American-Dream future. Get to America and make more in a week than most make in a month, send support back to mom or wife, and ultimately bring your family to America too.
They are simply trying to get out and make a better life. This does not mean that they are in the right to cross the border illegally. But it helps me remember where someone came from and what they came to. They desperately want what we have been born into.
2) Consider change in status
Not all who find themselves in the US illegally came here illegally. Consider this accounting from an attorney friend of mine:
I’ve got a client who came to the United States in 1998 with his wife and his 1 year old son. He left a terrible situation in Mexico. I’m not sure mechanically how they got here. He is diligent, law abiding, fair. He loves his family, has been married to one woman and works hard. Initially, he obtained a work permit and began working as a textile worker. He kept the same job for almost a decade. He and his wife had 3 more children born in the United States. They paid taxes. He had a valid driver’s license. He was never arrested or charged with any violation of law. About 5 years ago, he went to renew his driver’s license and was told that he had to present a social security card in order to renew. He’d had a NC driver’s license for more than a decade. He never was issued a Social Security Number. He tried to get one, but was told that his status in the US was no longer permitted. He could not even apply for a SSN. He has remained in the US…illegally for several years. His only option was to leave the US and apply for entry and then wait or he could stay and do the best he could. He would never abandon his family. He stayed. For years, he kept his nose clean, obeyed the speed limit, worked as a painter for cash (all the while still reporting the income to the IRS, who, by the way, gladly took his money each year). What do we call this man? Is he an illegal? Is it fair to consider him in the same light as someone who, in 2017 may be aware of the illegality of their act, who comes anyway, no matter the reason or justification?
His status changed, and now he’s undocumented. The laws changed, and now he’s in a shadow bureaucratic existence. What should he do?
[parts 2 & 3 will be published tomorrow – including Scriptural insights. You can “subscribe via email” and get each post delivered to your inbox; see above right]