Sunday, March 05, 2006

Put immigration "in the open space"

Today I ran across an article posted on Christianity Today that’s a great companion piece to the immigration legislation issue I wrote about earlier. "A Delicate Hospitality" focuses on how Hispanic churches in Southern California negotiate the dilemmas of ministry with undocumented immigrants – but it also gives some good background on why a significant number of Christians believe helping undocumented immigrants is a biblical responsibility.

Early on, the article quotes Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference:

"We have two responsibilities," he says. "One is our collective ethos to protect our citizenry from possible terrorists and from drug trafficking. But similarly, we can't deny Leviticus 19:34." The verse says, "The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God."

Rodriguez interprets the command this way: "We have a moral, biblical, God-given obligation to take care of the disenfranchised, the alienated, and the foreigner. How they got here is not our issue." He doesn't see someone's illegal status as sin … “Is it sin for a father to cross the Rio Grande because his family is impoverished? He's a hard-working, God-fearing individual; his family is impoverished, the [Mexican] government is corrupt, drug traffickers are mowing down individuals in his community, and for the sake of saving his children, they cross the Rio Grande."
There’s a lot of people like that out there. A few years ago, I talked with one. As the editor of a denominational magazine, I participated in an immigration study tour sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (a nonprofit world relief organization). One hot afternoon, I sat under a tarp in a dirt field across from such a man in south Texas. On Sundays, that place was a church which this man – an undocumented immigrant – pastored. Across the field, I could see the one room shanty he, his wife and their children lived in. It had no running water or electricity. As I listened through an interpreter, he shared how he and his family crossed the Rio Grande, fleeing poverty and seeking a life where his children wouldn’t starve. Many in his make-shift church – also undocumented – risked their lives and those of their children for the same reason. On that trip, I met dozens more like that pastor.

So, what can we do with this information? Later in the article, the article quotes Daniel DeLeon, senior pastor of Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, one of the largest Hispanic churches in the country. Besides caring for those in need, he says Christians have another responsibility:

"Many of the laws through the years have come about through the influence of the church, not only in America, but in the world. So we have a responsibility and a right to speak about issues that are touching the life of our congregation and the people that we serve."
This is an issue that needs to be more present in “the open space” among believers. Somehow we need to find a balance, a way to help those who desperately need it, while (as Rodriguez says) protecting our citizenry.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why can't Christian charity cross the border in the other direction, instead of supporting law-breakers?
The Orthodox church here in San Diego strongly supports Project Mexico which helps build housing and care for abandoned orphans in Mexico.
We have a responsibility to tell these people that we love them but that they are wrong to have jumped the border illegally and that they must obey the law.