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Immigration: Seeing the faces in the crowd

Christianity Today weighs in on the immigration issue with an on-line editorial today, Blessed Are the Courageous. It opens:
The usual array of arguments marshaled to support or hinder immigration tends toward the abstract. The arguments often obscure rather than clarify. It's helpful to remember who we are talking about when we discuss "undocumented workers."

We're talking about people like Maria.
The editorial then launches into Maria’s story through the words of priest and scholar Daniel Groody. You need to read it—and the rest of the editorial, too. It challenges preconceptions on both sides of the argument: The vast majority of the 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country are not lazy, welfare leeches, but neither are they weak and defenseless. Who are they? Read on:

Most of the suffering they experience they know about well in advance, yet they venture forth in courage nonetheless. They are not weak, but strong; not "the least of these," but our betters in many ways. They have the initiative and courage that is emblematic of being American. They traverse deserts. They walk 50 miles or farther in treacherous conditions that have killed (so far) 3,000—all to enjoy greater economic and political freedom.
The editorial concludes, while recognizing the complexity of the issue (needing to “balance compassion for individuals and separated families with national security and economic ramifications”), with a call for a policy that allows for and recognizes the “courage, industry and faith” of the millions living among us now. I think that’s wise, and I’m encouraged by the movement from both sides of the issue towards this kind of policy.

But what I truly like about this editorial is its attempt to put human faces on the masses. I think that is key to our lives as Christians. We must see the way the Master sees. He sees a blind man and takes him by the hand, leads him out of a village and heals him until his eyes are clear. He sees and is moved to compassion by a mass of people, hungry and desperate, so he feeds them. He sees a mad-man, casts out a legion of demons and then sits and talks with him for hours. Jesus really sees people. He touches them and meets their needs—be it sight, food or dignity.

It is easy to focus on the laws and economics, but then we lose sight of what’s at stake: real, individual people. And, indeed, most of them are like Maria or the man I met on the Texas-Mexico border several years ago.

They aren’t leaving behind houses, but shacks with dirt floors and no running water. They aren’t leaving behind a job at McDonalds in hopes of a plush desk job; they’re leaving behind poverty—children without shoes and wives who have too little food to fix for them—to work back-breaking and menial jobs many of us will never experience or want. They don’t want a free ride; they want a life where they can work to earn the money to give their families the basic necessities—shelter, food and life. They aren’t greedy; they are, for the most part, honest and hard-working fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters doing what it takes to pull themselves and their families out of the death-grip of poverty. I’m not being over-dramatic. Take a trip to the other side of the border and it won’t take long for you to see what I mean. It is wrong for people to live like this. If we can do something about it, we should.

I’m not saying the situation is easy or uncomplicated. It is neither. I’m not saying laws don’t matter. They do—very much. But just because a set of laws are on the books, doesn’t mean they can’t be changed for the better. I echo the call of this editorial: let’s find laws that both meet our needs for security and also give “justice and liberty” to these people among us. But above all, let’s see them. Let’s seek them out. Let’s get to know them. Let’s hear their stories. It made a difference in my heart. It will make a difference in yours.

(Image by djtansey taken March 8, 2006 at a protest against HR 4437)