Christians are people who live as if the kingdom Jesus preached is a present reality.
While politicians apportion blame for the thousands of unaccompanied Central American children arriving at our border, the faith community looks for ways to help.
I over-simplify, of course. We confront a complex tangle of rhetoric and response, and there are plenty of exceptions on both sides of the politician/people divide.
Not all politicians want to send these unaccompanied children back to the chaos and violence that brought them to our border.
A few weeks ago, I heard Dallas County Judge, Clay Jenkins, announce that we would be welcoming at least 2,000 “border children” to our community. Jenkins told the crowd that 85% of these children would be released into the safe keeping of family members as soon as they were processed by immigration officials; but the remaining 15% needed a safe place where they could receive food, shelter and basic services. Last week, I attended a religious gathering hosted by a prominent Baptist mega-church at which Jenkins repeated his message to a room dominated by evangelical Christians.
On both occasions, the audience responded with a mixture of enthusiasm, surprise and relief. If felt so strange to hear a politician speaking from sheer conviction. Jenkins knew his initiative would be controversial, but when his own children asked him what he was going to do about the kids being warehoused at the border, his faith forced the issue. He knew what Jesus would do, and didn’t dare take the opposite position.
And then there’s Texas state representative David Simpson, a telegenic Tea Party conservative with a cowboy hat and a smile. Simpson outraged his constituency last week by urging a compassionate response to the border children. “I don’t believe in treating people who’ve crossed the border as a murderer,” Simpson told a town hall gathering dominated by anti-immigrant activists. “I do think there should be a path, a legal path, for naturalization or citizenship. We’re a nation of immigrants.”
Like Clay Jenkins, David Simpson is taking his cue from his religion. He quoted Proverbs 20:28, Deuteronomy 10:18-19 and Leviticus 19:33, passages that call for compassionate treatment of resident aliens, “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Unfortunately, Jenkins and Simpson are bucking the political consensus. The prevailing view is that we should send the children back to their homes without delay even if we have to rescind the 2008 William Wilberforce Act to do it.
The Wilberforce Act passed in the dying days of the George W. Bush administration, thanks to the tireless efforts of an unlikely coalition of conservative and liberal organizations. President Bush welcomed the legislation and it enjoyed the enthusiastic support of evangelical Christians. Immigrant children from Central America were being targeted by human traffickers and backers of the Wilberforce Act wanted the abuse to stop.
Six years later, Washington is on the verge of scrapping the bill. No one anticipated tens of thousands of children fleeing north to escape violent drug gangs in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Why should we care whether the children huddled in our detention centers are being forced into sexual slavery or into the drug trade. Children are children; pain is pain.
Prominent politicians on both sides of the ideological divide are holding their hands over their ears to block the elegant logic of compassion. These kids fled their homes because they feared for their lives and only in America can they be protected. But Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, John Boehner, and both Democratic and Republican candidates for Texas governor want to toss the children back into the fire.
But the tide is turning. You can feel it. Last week, rallies were organized across the nation to protest the compassionate treatment of the border children. In some localities only a handful of protesters showed up at these events, and in many cities proponents of compassionate immigration reform outnumbered anti-immigration people two or three to one.
And the surprises just keep coming. Glenn Beck, the conservative firebrand, organized a caravan of provisions for the border children a few days ago. Beck feared his followers wouldn’t like the idea (they didn’t), but his heart forced his hand.
And then there’s the conservative curmudgeon, George Will, telling the Sunday talk shows that America should welcome the border children with open arms.
“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans. We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 [children] per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these 8-year-old ‘criminals’ with their teddy bears is preposterous.”
Sure, Will is taking a lot of flak for his outspoken views, but I suspect he is buoyed by a tangible shift in the public mood.
Much of the credit for changing hearts and minds on this issue goes to conservative Christians. Recently, a contingent of Southern Baptist leaders and Roman Catholic bishops toured the overcrowded immigration facilities at the border. Speaking at Parkhills Baptist Church in San Antonio, Russell Moore, the outspoken president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, pared the issue back to its theological core:
“As a follower of Jesus Christ, I recognize the answer to this question is going to be very complex politically and very complex socially. But what is not complex is the truth and reality that every one of these children are created in the image of God, and every one are beloved by God and they matter to God. That means they matter to us.”
The tidal wave of compassion is building deep in the heart of Texas. Cindy Noble Cole, a Dallas nurse, saw televised pictures of frightened children housed in what appeared to be dog kennels. So she filled 50 hygiene boxes for the kids and delivered them to Catholic Charities of Fort Worth. What began as a simple “this is what I’m doing” post on Facebook, quickly blossomed into Operation Matthew 25, a movement that has already sent 500 boxes of hygienic supplies, blankets, activity boxes and school supplies to the border.
I first became aware of Operation Matthew 25 when scores of Facebook friends replaced the usual Glamour shot on their homepage with a little picture that reads, “I stand with refugee children: they are children.”
The folks highlighted above are all over the map politically and theologically, but they understand the elegant logic of Matthew 25: “Inasmuch as you did it unto these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it unto me.”
The growing people/politician divide on this issue is driven by a simple fact: politicians are running on fear; most people, when they’re sane and centered, are running on faith.
Compassion for the stranger and the alien is central to Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious teaching. Jesus opened his public ministry with a quotation from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to preach good news to the poor,” and he closed out his public ministry with the parable of the sheep and the goats. In the kingdom of God, Jesus says, many who are first will be last and the last will be first.
Distracted by politics and our ubiquitous culture war, Christians frequently lose sight of this teaching. But then we have all these children on our doorstep, and the words of Jesus come flooding back to us. And when that happens, we do what must be done.
By Alan Bean
This is good stuff! In a NYT op-ed, UNC history professor Molly Worthen draws attention to one of the primary forces driving the immigration debate in America–the counter-intuitive coalition between white and Latino evangelicals.
It is easy to regard this fragile network with skepticism. When over 70% of Latino voters pulled the lever for the blue team, savvy Republicans knew they had to edit their immigration talking points.
True, but it goes deeper than that.
Worthen argues that Latino evangelicals don’t share the libertarian, small government leanings of their white counterparts. Moreover, a large and influential cohort of educated young white evangelicals is embracing aspects of the old social gospel with its focus on social or systemic sin. This is not a cosmetic shift from the old evangelicalism, Worthen insists; it represents a fundamental shift in theological focus:
For a Christian, the question of whether an undocumented immigrant is a criminal or a victim trapped in an unjust system depends on how one thinks about sin and human responsibility . . . There are signs that evangelicals’ softening on immigration reform reflects a changing theology of sin and Christian obligation: a growing appreciation of how unjust social and legal institutions and the brutality of global capitalism trap the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses. This may be particularly true of younger evangelicals who are disillusioned with their parents’ Christian right. (more…)
“Three out of four people found with drugs by the border agency are U.S. citizens, the data show. Looked at another way, when the immigration status is known, four out of five busts—which may include multiple people—involve a U.S. citizen.”
Amidst the accusations of people like Governor Brewer and Sheriff Apaio that undocumented immigrants are dangerous criminals responsible for smuggling millions of dollars worth of drugs , this article brings a new and fresh perspective.
At Mexican Border, Four in Five Drug Busts Involve American Citizens
The public’s view of a typical Mexican drug smuggler might not include U.S. Naval Academy grad Todd Britton-Harr, who was caught at a Border Patrol checkpoint in south Texas in December 2010 hauling a trailer with 1,100 pounds of marijuana.
Nor would someone like Laura Lynn Farris leap to mind. Border Patrol agents stopped the 52-year-old woman at a border checkpoint 15 miles south of the west Texas town of Alpine in February 2011 with 162 pounds of marijuana hidden under dirty blankets in laundry baskets. (more…)
Posted by Pierre Berastain
By Alan Bean
Hope and Nazry Mustakim will be speaking at the kickoff event for our Common Peace Community on Saturday. If you live in the DFW area, we invite you to join us at 12 noon in Room 302 at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Hope didn’t have to worry about the Department of Homeland Security until she married a man from Singapore. That simple decision opened a door to a strange and frightening world.
PUBLISHED: FEBRUARY 22, 2012
Armed immigration agents woke Nazry Mustakim and his wife, Hope, as dawn broke on March 30, 2011, banging on the door of their North Waco home. Even as they handcuffed 32-year-old Naz, as friends and family know him, agents promised the arrest was merely administrative. He’d be released within hours, they said. “His case had just been flagged for some reason,” Hope said. “I was told he’d be out in no time.” Naz texted his call-center boss, saying he’d be late for work.
Days later, however, U.S. Immigration and Customs officials told Hope that Naz would be deported to Singapore and he was sent to the ICE detention center in Pearsall, south of San Antonio, to wait. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Canadian activists are outraged by an immigration raid in Vancouver that they claim was staged for a reality show. The folks with the cameras claim they are producing a documentary and only use footage after getting verbal permission. A woman working across the street from the action claims to be deeply upset: “It doesn’t seem very Canadian,” she told the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) “It’s very sensationalized. I don’t like it. It’s just very creepy.”
This video is taken from the Vancouver Sun’s story on the raid.
Canadians define themselves in opposition to the United States. As Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once explained to an American reporter, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant . . . one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” When Canadians say something “isn’t very Canadian” we usually mean it is very American.
Canadians have just recently gained a passion for deporting undocumented aliens. True, the number of people deported from Canada increased by 50% between 1999 and 2009, but we’re talking about an increase from 8,361 deportations per year to 12,732.
Contrast that with the 400,000 folks the Obama administration deported last year.
Of course Canada is one-tenth the size of the US and doesn’t share a border with a less wealthy nation, so comparisons are precarious. Still, I find the reaction of the populace gratifying. People were generally outraged by the idea of staging an immigration sweep for the cameras, something that would hardly raise an eyebrow in the USA. And the immigration people were quick to insist that they were really looking for a genuine baddie and just stumbled over the other people by accident.
Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, appears to be fascinated by all things American, including our war on drugs and our prison industrial complex. Is he now taking an interest in mass deportation? Will private detention centers soon be springing up along the border between British Columbia and Washington State? Perhaps some of our Canadian readers can shed some light on these questions. (more…)
By Alan Bean
The gun debate has revealed some troubling tensions within the American conservative movement. It is a misnomer, of course, to speak of the American conservative movement, we are really dealing with dozens of overlapping movements locked in a troubled marriage of convenience. The same sort of uneasy alliance exists on the left. Major shifts in political fortune often reveal deep fissures within the constellation of groups and individuals Hillary Clinton once called the “great right-wing conspiracy”.
Conservatives have a deep distrust of centralized government, but they are often willing to support the unmitigated flowering of government authority if it promises to get drugs off the streets, reduce crime or enhance America’s reputation in the world or secure the nation’s borders. When three-quarters of a steadily-growing Latino electorate pulls the lever for the opposition, the need for change is obvious. Suddenly the conservative desire to maintain white hegemony (“taking back our country”) is in tension with the conservative fear of “jackbooted thugs”.
In an opinion piece for The Hill, Mike Lillis directs us to recent remarks from South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, by all accounts the staunchest of staunch conservatives:
While Gowdy has not made immigration a focus of his two years on Capitol Hill — most often toeing the party line without fanfare — he recently rejected the notion that the government should round up and deport the millions of illegal immigrants living in the country.
“You want them knocking on your front door?” Gowdy told Gannett this month. “You want them going to elementary schools and rounding up the kids?” (more…)
By Alan Bean
Americans don’t agree on issues like abortion and gun rights, but most sentient citizens understand that kids need to be with their parents and parents need to be with their children. We grieve for the families in Newtown CT who lost a child to a mad rampage because the worst nightmare of any parent is the horror of losing a child.
Does our compassion extend to undocumented parents separated from their children through deportation? Seth Wessler has faithfully covered this issue for Colorlines and his most recent article raises issues most of us never think about because we don’t have to. Parents frequently cross the border illegally in an attempt to reunite with a child. Deportation destroys families. Some deportees make several failed attempts to cross the border regardless of the consequences. That’s what parents do.
The federal government conducted more than 200,000 deportations of parents who said their children are U.S. citizens in a timespan of just over two years, according to new data obtained by Colorlines.com. The figures represent the longest view to date of the scale of parental deportation. (more…)