Monday, September 03, 2007

Immigration - Hot Button Enough?

Thank you to everyone who responded last time, both at Enter the Rainbow and 7 Villages. Great stuff! Respectful disagreements and thoughtful responses were the rule, and there were many, many helpful insights.

I want to comment on one specific thread of conversation that came up over on 7 Villages. My friend Rob wrote, "Immigration and immigrants are not "hot buttons" with anyone I know, but "illegal" immigration would come much closer to a hot button." Another commenter had made a similar remark earlier in the thread, also.

I do not have vast experience with the immigration system in the United States, but of the five families I know through the church who have immigrated to this country, four have had setbacks with the system. In all four cases, the people had followed all of the rules according to the advice they had been given, done everything they were supposed to do, and still had troubles. It is an expensive, time-consuming, unimaginably stressful process to immigrate legally.

The immigration issue, as I have experienced it, is not just a legal issue, it is not only a racial or ethnic issue, it is not so much a patriotic issue. Immigration is a class issue. If you can afford the thousands of dollars it takes to immigrate legally, you're fine. If you have the luxury to expend the hours and hours, months, and even years it takes to immigrate legally, no problem. But if you are poor, and every bit of money you earn has to go toward things like food, clothing, and shelter, and the prospect of taking time off of work in order to maneuver through the bureaucy of the immigration system would mean you lose your job, then yes, immigration reform is a "hot button" issue.

People who immigrate to the United States are routinely exploited by employers who consider them nothing more than a cheap, expendable resource. Further, unethical agents gouge immigrants for exorbitant fees with the false promise of good advice and a helping hand. The list goes on: families are separated from one another, illness and injury often go untreated out of fear - immigration can be a frightening, daunting, dehumanizing experience.

And so I want to move the church's conversation about immigration away from the abstract and toward the personal. Instead of policies, systems, and border fences, I think the church ought to be talking about relationships, people, and shared experiences. Christ asks his disciples to notice especially the condition of the poor, the oppressed, the outcast. As followers of Christ, we need to affirm and embody the truth that every person is worth something in God's eyes, every person is in fact a beloved child of God. Yes, I believe the system is unwieldy and in need of reform, but as we work to make the system more just, we must not neglect the call to be in loving relationship with each of God's children.

After all, upon which is the church called to focus - one's relationship with the United States government, or one's relationship with God through Christ Jesus?

4 comments:

Larry B said...

"After all, upon which is the church called to focus - one's relationship with the United States government, or one's relationship with God through Christ Jesus?"

That's my own belief. The poor status of the immigration system regardless of which side of the fence (no pun intended) you fall on, should be a wake up call to the church that either the church has failed in some regard or there is a tremendous missionary opportunity right next door to us.

The problem seems to be that the louder voices in the UMC seem to think social justice comes from voting a particular way on an issue, passing particular laws, or walking in the desert to "experience" what it's like to be an illegal immigrant coming over the border. The church views their action as being primarily to force government to act a certain way.

What the church should do in my opinion is put their head down, get out of the political arena and start sending missionaries to Mexico to improve their quality of life so they don't have to come here to be exploited and get caught up in something that could be worse than what they left. Government will always do an awful job of being compassionate and caring. Systems and laws don't do these kind of things. People do. The church is supposed to be the place where people learn to be compassionate and caring and then act on that in ways that impact individuals lives. Not just writing letters to governors and telling people how to vote.

Adam said...

Hey Andy, after your last couple posts I thought this was cool- I'm currently reading "Justice in the Burbs" by Will & Lisa Samson, and here's a quote from a chapter:

"Ironically, as we spoke about earlier, we often read certain passages of scripture with a bias toward the issues we care about. Consider, for example, Ezekiel 16: 44-59, a passage that deals with the destruction of Sodom. Rather than being a direct statement about homosexuality, for which the metaphor of Sodom is often applied, this passage instead deals with food: "This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy" (v. 49) You have no doubt heard homosexuality comdemned as a sin from the pulpit. How often have we heard a sermon about the sin of not sharing what we have with those in need?"

Sounds familiar!

Donna said...

Well said, Andy. And I have to respectfully disagree with Larry B. I think sometimes social justice does come from voting a particular way and passing (or repealing) a particular law. Maybe that's a Lutheran thing; I don't know. Luther taught that we are not called to separate ourselves from the civic arena. But doing what we can in the political/legal arena can be the best way to work for justice. Not the only way, for sure. But a needed one.

John said...

People who immigrate to the United States are routinely exploited by employers who consider them nothing more than a cheap, expendable resource. Further, unethical agents gouge immigrants for exorbitant fees with the false promise of good advice and a helping hand. The list goes on: families are separated from one another, illness and injury often go untreated out of fear - immigration can be a frightening, daunting, dehumanizing experience.

Obviously not, or the immigrants wouldn't come here -- right? I mean, if they choose to come to the US, then obviously their exploited lives here are better than what they have back home.