August 20, 2011 in How should religious leaders and people of faith respond to people (especially the poor) who come to America either legally or illegally?, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Cole Huffman
I am an immigrant to Tennessee from Alabama and have gone mostly undetected. That said tongue-in-cheek, I haven’t kept up with genuine immigration issues, particularly illegal immigration, much beyond a few reruns of Border Wars on National Geographic channel. So I will not venture much opinion here on something I’ve not thought near enough about. This is to my regret since I know these issues have deep and wide social ramifications. I welcome legal, law-abiding immigrants as I would want their countries to welcome me. The gospel did wonders on my old xenophobia. Many in my church involve themselves with legal immigrants, particularly from Sudan, who need Americans to be their friends as they settle among us.
I recognize illegal immigration is the thorny matter, and not so much on legal grounds as emotional. I received a timely e-mail this week from my mom, a Nashville-based freelance editor. Mom was once a newspaper editor and edited for Thomas Nelson publishers. I find her perspective good fodder for my own:
“Recently I was asked to do a first reading and comment on a Christian novel that I would later edit. As I began to work on my third novel by this author, I found her main characters included a young pregnant woman and her husband in Mexico. By showing the violence and terror all around them (the young woman’s extended family was murdered by a cartel), the author made the reader sympathize with their eventual border crossing to escape the mayhem. The fact that they fell into the hands of an unscrupulous ‘coyote’ who took their money and then sold them into slavery added another wrinkle. By then I was rooting for them to escape and find sanctuary in the U. S., even though I don’t believe in illegal immigration.
“While reading the book, I thought about advising the publishing house that the author almost seemed to be advocating for illegal immigration. I knew, even in a novel, that might not be received well by her intended law-abiding audience. But I couldn’t do it because the author had done nothing wrong. She had created believable characters that showed her readers what it might be like when one’s only hope of a better life—or survival at all—was to cross a border. She had put her readers (and me) in that uncomfortable position of feeling one way about vigorously enforcing the border, while knowing that Jesus and His often inconvenient “law of love” would mandate another way of dealing with the individuals who managed to cross it.”
Mom articulates well the felt tension for followers of Jesus. Our respect for immigration laws does not nullify the compassion we feel for those who break the law out of desperation, as is the case with some illegal immigrants. But compassion for those illegals’ plight does not mitigate their breaking needed laws in entry. Law is not the enemy and neither are immigrants in principle. Most countries protect their borders as a service to their citizenry within. It’s the reality of sovereignty and must be honored.
I almost forgot this. A few years ago, as a gift to my wife, I looked into hiring a maid for once-a-week cleaning. A friend recommended a Hispanic woman that he praised as an excellent, thorough cleaner. I asked him how he paid her, specifically whether I needed to provide her with any kind of document for her taxes. His face changed. He didn’t know if she was paying taxes or not, and had not asked her as her English was limited. We consulted an accountant and asked a friend at our church fluent in Spanish to inquire with her about it. He discovered she and her husband were illegals. Knowing this, it was only right for my friend to discontinue her services as their maid and for me not to hire her either.
There’s a difference—a border, if you will—between treating someone like a person and like a citizen. If that maid or other illegals came to our home or church needing food or clothes we’d give it because we’ll treat them as people every time, regardless of their status. But we cannot treat them as citizens when they are not.