I want to thank Jenny Hwang for taking the time to answer some questions raised by her book, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate. The national questions and debates about immigration aren’t going away anytime soon. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if Christians were informed theologically and practically about these issues in such a way as to make significant contributions? After all, what may seem like a debate about politics and ideology to some of us is a matter of much more immediate concern to so many immigrants.
Today we focus on some of the more practical concerns in the immigration debate, including one that may initially seem trite.
How important is the distinction between identifying someone as an “illegal” immigrant and an “undocumented” immigrant?
We prefer to refer to people as “undocumented” rather than “illegal.” We do not deny that it is illegal to enter the United States without a valid visa, nor do we condone any illegal activity. However, while entry without inspection (or over staying a temporary visa) is illegal, this does not define the person’s identity. Many of us have broken a law at one time or another (we can probably confess to having sped down the highway on more than one occasion), but if a single (or even, in the case of our speeding, repeated) act were to define our identity, we would probably all be “illegals.” It is too easy to dehumanize immigrants with such terminology. So, rather than referring to people as illegal aliens, we generally opt to refer to people as undocumented immigrants.
The immigration debate seems to have taken a back seat to the health care debate these days. When do expect to see immigration re-enter the national debate and what are key issues you hope to see resolved?
Rep. Luis Gutierrez from Chicago, IL introduced an immigration bill on Tuesday December 15, 2009 called the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, or CIR ASAP Act of 2009. This bill would provide increased border security, an employment verification system, reduce family based visa backlogs, and create a path for earned legal status for undocumented immigrants. The bill would also establish an independent federal commission that will develop employment-based immigration policies as well as increase American worker protections.
Senator Schumer in the Senate has also taken leadership on immigration and is working on a bill to introduce next year. Many faith groups are supporting comprehensive immigration reform which can be outlined as follows:
- Reforms in our family based immigration system to significantly reduce waiting times for separated families who currently wait many years to be reunited;
- The creation of more responsive legal avenues for workers and their families who wish to migrate to the U.S. to enter our country and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner that prevents their exploitation and assures them due process;
- The option for those individuals and families who are already living in the U.S. and working hard, to apply for permanent legal status and citizenship if they choose to do so, by meeting specific application criteria; and
- Border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of enforcing our laws.
What are some practical steps a person could take who wants to become more actively involved in advocating for compassion and justice for immigrants.
I think a good acronym to get people involved in immigration is PLEASE.
P- Prayer is critical to bring before God our concerns and needs about immigration. We can pray for immigrants, especially for families separated by current policies, for Congress and the President, and for the countries from which immigrants come
L- Listening and Learning from our immigrant brothers and sisters. We can build relationships with our immigrant brothers and sisters so that they can help us to understand how this issue affects all of us as the Church. We can also build relationships with pastors and church leaders leading immigrant congregations. There are also many books and other resources to help us understand this issue better, including Welcoming the Stranger as well as Christians at the Border.
E- Education of our local communities and churches is very important on this issue. Churches can ask a pastor of a nearby immigrant congregation to share with their congregation. Churches can also dedicate a Sunday School class, missions conference, or Sunday sermon to looking at immigration in Scripture. World Relief or other ministries that work with immigrants may be helpful in connecting churches and individuals with volunteer opportunities that can facilitate mutual learning
A- Advocacy- It is critical for folks to write, call, and visit your Congressperson to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform. People can email firstname.lastname@example.org in order to receive bi-monthly emails updating you on immigration news. Folks can also text “JUSTICE” to 69866 to get updates on immigration. These calls and letters will determine whether immigration reform passes in Congress, which in turn will affect the lives of millions of people in the country now. It is also important to speak up for immigrants whenever you hear or read rumors or myths about them.
S- Service- There are many ways for a church to serve the immigrants in their community. Churches can provide English classes, mentorships/friendship partners to help newly arriving immigrants adjust to a new culture, space for an immigrant congregation to meet, and legal services, with proper training and governmental recognition.
E- Evangelism- As we serve and welcome immigrants into our churches, we have the opportunity to share with them the transformational message of the gospel