We were strangers too…

Yesterday I attended the noon Lent experience that our denomination is sponsoring. Each day of the week has a different focus, and Thursdays deal with peace and justice–and yesterday I listened to a friend speak about immigration. He has a perspective I don’t–his mother was Mexican, his father German, and he was raised in a border town.

I was struck by a couple of things specifically as he shared.

First was the challenge to treat the sojourner–the alien, the immigrant–as we would have wished to be treated if/when we were in their position. And while I may not have been an immigrant, immigration is in my DNA as a member of my faith tradition. The Bible is full of stories of immigrants seeking a home–and reminding them (us?) that when they became the “natives” they (we) need to remember that once upon a time we were immigrants as well.

When we don’t remember that, we find it easy to dehumanize those who are “the other.” We don’t see them as people…we call them “wetbacks,” “illegals”… We talk about microchipping them…or even hunting them down as we do feral pigs.

But they are people–sons and daughters of God as I am, and therefore my brothers and sisters.

 The other challenge had to do with how our policies treat people. One of the worst things about slavery was the way it separated families…and in many ways, that is happening again with our immigration policies. Parents may be deported–sometimes to different countries, depending on their nationality–and their children may lose one parent. Or we force families with native-born children to choose between taking advantage of the benefits of United States citizenship or living with their parents. Or–if children were brought here by their parents as infants, growing up in the belief that they are U.S. citizens–we force them to return to a “homeland” that was never their home and of which they have no memory.

I do not know what the answer is to the immigration challenges we face. I see–and understand–the need to obey our laws. But I also sympathize with those who are seeking a way to support their families. And yet… How can I ignore the challenge that is part of my faith DNA?

“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 23:9