Category Archives: Immigration

On Probation

If you haven’t heard Lowe’s along with some others has decided to remove its sponsorship of TLC’s All American Muslim. One of their justifications is they felt by sponsoring a program showing the daily lives of Muslims in Cosby Show mode was too controversial.  Huh?

To arrive at such a conclusion one has to of course have already formed an opinion about what being a Muslim is.  If showing them being smart and rather pedestrian is “controversial,” I hate to think what the decision makers at Lowe’s starting point of viewing them are to begin with.

Apparently the group spearheading the efforts to get companies to pull out is the Florida Family Association.  They have been a one man band in sounding the alarm about the show.  Essentially their position is a good American Muslim is an oxymoron.

Wow is all I have to say to that.   Not really sure who made them the American police.  However I can’t say that I’m surprised.  Immigrants have often operated under the cloud of probationary citizenship.   Different racial groups are “in” and “out” based on public mood.

After 9-11 one of my friends from India said her world changed overnight. She has stopped wearing clothing from her homeland in public spaces because of the insults she receives, and people look at her much differently now than when she first immigrated into this country in the 1980s.

She told me one story of how her husband was pumping gas at a local gas station and a guy yelled at him to “go back home.”  He said he was headed home, that’s why he was getting gas.  The yeller mumbled something and drove off.  Her husband wasn’t even aware that he was being racially harassed and being told to leave the country until it was pointed out to him by his wife!

Regardless of ethnic background or religious belief, we as Christians have an obligation to not make people probationary based on public sentiment.   We should follow the example of Paul in Acts 17:16-34.   He kept at the forefront the importance of being able to dialogue with all segments of society.

We must realize as Christians we must display attitudes that allow us to reach a wide spectrum of people.  No one is ever probationary.  I encourage you to watch the show, as it might give you some insight into the Muslim mindset.  You never know when the Spirit might call on you to witness to one.

I’m the Felon

Yesterday I went to my local municipality city hall court to accompany my Brazilian housekeeping friends caught without a license and yes, without proper documentation.

We waited a lot with a great deal of anxiety. The matter from the beginning always had an undertone of money. According to a paper we were handed upon passing through metal detectors said that we would be fined between $250 up to $5,000. We were certainly not getting out of this unscathed.

Our lawyer arrived and with an air of know-how he greeted us and went about seeking people behind closed doors.

We picked out seats in a room crowded with speeders, drunk drivers, and other such violators. I wondered how many faced another trial with an immigration court after this one.

Our lawyer reappeared with a triumphant smile. We would only have to pay for not having a license. $787 and change. After two days in the county jail and this fine, I’m sure we have learned our lesson. But for those who say that immigrants have a free ride, I just want to vouch for the opinion that I think they pay through the nose.

Next month, the stakes go up. Stay tuned friends and pray if you have an ounce of compassion.

When I told Alex Mandes, the EFCA Hispanic Ministries Director, about the situation, that my housekeepers had gotten arrested, and now could face the possibility of deportation. He smirked and said, “You’re the felon.”

And indeed, I hired them without asking the question because I feared the answer. But to hear Alex say it so directly, “You’re the felon.” I am the criminal. I am the lawbreaker. For just a moment, I felt defensive and defenseless at the same time. As a Christian, knowing what I know now, how much they needed the work to pay for the surgeries and treatment for her thyroid and her swelling eye, how she had to send money home to take care of her aging parents, how her heart had been wounded by other Christians — would I still have had them clean my house?

Would I break the law again? Would you?

The Truth of Inconvenience

Despite the title parody, I wasn’t thinking of environmentalism or the planet. I was thinking of the fact that I suffer for fear of inconvenience and have the growing suspicion that this could prove to have negative effects for the way I live out my faith.

I’ve been in a mild season of self-loathing recently. Let me explain.
I wrote not too long ago about the experience of my housekeepers having to be at the mercy of increasingly aggressive immigration law enforcement in the state of Georgia.

I had hoped to keep the blog posts on this couple’s struggle going and to walk with them through this journey that really has awakened them from the American Dream. For a while, I was on a roll: I faxed a letter to the governor signed by our church leadership team expressing our concerns for the children of deported parents; I preached on the matter of justice in my home church (twice!); I helped the Hispanic church with whom we share a building host an immigration attorney.

But the truth of the matter is that I was finding the outer limits of my generosity and neighborliness. I found my compassion wearing thin with every interruption, tedious phone call, frustrating conversation in broken English, and surprise visit. Hours of work had been compromised. Several trips to a part of town I was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with were also a part of this process.

I wanted to be free of the heavy burden of anxiety, the specter of fear, and the horrible hole-in-the-gut of uncertainty. And of course, that was part of the problem. I could always opt out. This was just temporary for me. It was just a bump in the road, a slight inconvenience. And I still hated it. I still bristled at it. God spare me from a real test of my ideals.

I think I have always assumed Jesus bore the cross as the ultimate sign of love, or atonement — a cosmic reconciliation of what had been broken in the garden, but what I forget is that cross was meant for me. That was my problem and my destiny and yet it was taken from me. And yet Jesus never made me feel as though he were inconvenienced by it all. In the process of sanctification, could we be like Christ without this inconvenient truth? Isn’t this what the ministry of reconciliation is for?

Blessing the Mess – Final Thoughts

This is no small concern, as nothing less than the essence of the gospel is at stake. Jesus set a clear pattern concerning how the gospel was going to spread: people influencing others to follow Jesus through the witness of their lives.  God uses immigration to complete His agenda throughout the earth (Acts 8).   Acts 17:26 makes it clear that it is God who decides what people groups will go where, at what time, and for what purpose:

From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 

God is concerned with all the nations and their way of life.  Ultimately it is He who determines the time period and the boundaries of human habitation, regardless of the societal laws of any particular nation.   In essence Scripture suggests that all Christians have a loyalty beyond their national citizenship, which is our standing as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  Such citizenship makes us all immigrants on this earth (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20).  We should approach immigration as an opportunity to become ethnic entrepreneurs for His glory.

Blessing the Mess – Part 3

When we watch the news and see stories of “ethnic cleansing,” or hundreds of people in a sweatshop being drastically underpaid for their labor; or when we look at a history book and see that once upon a time the U.S. government allowed the enslavement of a group of people based on their African heritage, we cannot forget that the root of these events is spiritual.  Psalms 2:1 asks, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” The quick answer is because they are in sinful rebellion. But that is not God’s desire.  We see His desire in Genesis 12:2-3 in His promise to Abram (Abraham):

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.  God’s desire is a unified people, bringing blessing to all. Yet to receive the promise of God, Abraham must immigrate from Haran to Canaan.  It was God’s idea.

The tangible blessing does not come overnight. After Genesis, the story expands beyond individuals to the complete sum of Abraham’s offspring, which eventually become known as the nation of Israel. Eventually the Israelites themselves immigrate to Egypt.  In Exodus we see the pitting of nation against nation as a contest between gods.   For example, the famous plagues of Exodus 1-12 were each a contest between the God of Israel and one of Egypt’s gods. When God rescued the Israelites, He delivered the message that the God of Israel is the sovereign God over all, regardless of your cultural family.

Israelite immigration led to switched spiritual allegiances.  Consider Joshua 2 and the story of Rahab; read the story of Naomi and Ruth in the Book of Ruth; ponder God’s message to the Israelite captives in Babylon found in Jeremiah 29:4-7. Throughout the Old Testament the message to the Israelites was clear: Through your lives you will declare the glory of the one true God to those who don’t know Me; and through this declaration, they will come to Me.

In the New Testament the apostle Paul makes clear to the Galatians that they began their relationship with God the same way Abraham did: by faith, not ethnic lineage (Galatians 3:6-9). Abraham’s real offspring are those who have faith in his God. The redemption of Christ permits all to enjoy the blessing of Abraham (Galatians 3:14).  If people want to know God, they need not seek out Israelites and convert to Judaism. That was the old paradigm. We are now told to receive the promise of the Spirit and form communities of Spirit-filled people. These ministry communities are the primary vehicles for the nations to know God.

The stress of the New Testament is toward a community of people making their presence known by living differently as the people of God in their geographic region. As they do this, the people (both native and immigrant) of their region will know where to look for God.  You can find an example of these ethical encouragements in all of Paul’s writings to churches.

Blessing the Mess – Part 2

Romans 13:1-3 says:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

From this Scripture we could conclude the government’s role is to punish wrong and commend what is right.  To that effect, some may argue, the Alvarado’s got what was coming to them.  However, a positive statement of civil authority (such as Romans 13:1-3) is not logically or theologically restrictive of other activities.   In other words, the fact that the Bible says positively that government has a responsibility to do “X” does not imply that the government can do “X” and “X” only in all situations.

Justice is only as good as the laws that define its boundaries.  It would not be hard to come up with examples of unjust laws (Historic “Jim Crow” laws come quickly to mind, for starters).  So no matter what our answers as a society are concerning immigration, Christians must realize that immigration is a process allowed (and at times initiated) by God and more importantly, immigrants are people.  And people are not illegal.

To understand immigration from a biblical point of view, we must see how it operates throughout Scripture.  For starters, we can think of the people of the world as one giant family — large, colorful, diverse . . . and dysfunctional!  The Bible depicts a world of competing families, known as nations. The links that form these families are ethnic cultural groups, whose members share familiar origins and basics of culture such language, values, attitudes, and beliefs.

Throughout history we see a theme of struggle, discrimination, and conflict: one story after another of nations trying to advance their own interests over others.  This struggle more times than not is what produces immigrants or refugees (i.e. someone not native to the local geographic area).   The root of the struggle is found in Genesis 2, where we see God’s plan for unity in the Garden of Eden. Relationships were perfect between people and God, between people themselves, and with the environment. It was truly a blessed state of existence.

Actually, the word blessed does not accurately describe what was going on. A better word is a Hebrew one, shalom. Shalom means people living in a situation of completeness in every aspect of their human existence.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve experienced shalom. Their physical, social, moral, mental, and emotional needs were completely met. And their spiritual relationship with God was without filters — 100-percent pure. Theirs was a life with no worries.

Then, the familiar story of Genesis 3 tells of the moment when the whole situation of shalom unraveled, beginning the dysfunctional mess of a worldwide family we have today.   By “mess” I mean the change that occurs in the personal character of humans, brought about by the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve. With their sin, God’s original intent for our world — to live in unity with each other and with Him — was violated.

The consequences of the Fall are instant: Confidence is replaced by doubt. Honesty is replaced by deception. Intimacy is replaced by shame. Fellowship is replaced by fear.   In essence, we see barriers go up between Adam and Eve and between both them and God. And along with the barriers come hostility. God questions Adam, Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake.

Adam and Eve show here the first signs of human conflict and rebellion against God, a rebellion that continues to have far-reaching effects. In Genesis 3:15, God speaks to the evil being (represented by the serpent) who started it all:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

Traditionally, Genesis 3:15 is also interpreted as a foreshadowing of Christ’s eventual defeat of Satan. We know that Christ came to reconcile people to their God, to each other, and to creation.  This verse foretells how our world will be in continual conflict between humans and representatives of evil. The battle lines have been formed, and the world from now until Christ’s return will struggle in a messy conflict.  And more times than not, what drives people to our shores are by-products of these conflicts.

Blessing the Mess – Part 1

Virtually everybody concurs that there is a quandary in the United States concerning immigration.  However, what exactly is the problem is passionately debated.  It is an issue that can be described by one word:  messy.   Take the story of Juan and Maria Alvarado (not their real names).  Their patchwork life consisted of working long hours at whatever jobs they could find in their native Mexico.  When their first child was born, crossing the border illegally seemed like the most logical move for a better life.

After all American companies were begging for workers.  But a legal work visa took years to obtain and the baby didn’t have years to wait for food, clothing, and shelter.  The situation led the Alvarado’s to slip into California, find jobs, and start anew.  Soon friends in their new land invited them to their church where Juan and Maria met Christ.  Salvation changed their worldview and not having legal documentation bothered them.  So they entered the process to become documented, legal workers.

As the process grinded on two more children came along and a cousin’s invitation prompted a move to the Midwest, where they found a new church family and the better life they were searching for.  But a routine traffic stop changed everything.   When police checked Juan’s identification card his name matched that of a wanted felon. By the time his innocence was clarified, the Immigration and Naturalization Service had been called and within a few days Juan was deported back to Mexico.

Maria is struggling to say the least.  The baby that inspired them to cross the border is now a teen who has traded her dreams of college for the reality of filling the role of her deported daddy, providing a second income as she helps parent her siblings.   Who’s at fault?  The Alvarado’s for immigrating?  The companies who lured them?  The two churches involved in their lives?  Bureaucrats?

Unlike politicians and “talking heads” on television, as Christians we don’t have the convenience of making immigration a zero sum game.  We should realize the answers surrounding situations like the Alvarado’s will always be imprecise.   Tomorrow I will begin a brief theological/philosophical look at the situation.

No More Strangers, Part 2

Six days in jail. $11,300 and counting to post bond and retain an immigration lawyer. Hours upon hours of waiting. Dozens of phone calls with no straight answers. Miles of driving around the city and paying collectively about $100 in parking fees. Bureaucracy. Anxiety. Weeping. Shouting. Frustration. Fear.

All of this I have witnessed in the past week trying to walk with the couple who clean our home. I understand the argument that none of this would have happened if they had simply attended to the proper requirements and protocol of immigration law. But those who have never really had to stare down that precipice sorely underestimate the complexities of that process. And honestly, if her entire world can blow up because she didn’t have a driver’s license, I don’t understand how this scenario is all that different from Americans being wrongfully locked up abroad. Seriously, six days in jail with sex offenders, wife beaters, and the mentally ill? Are undocumented immigrants to be criminalized to that extent? And even I should understand that citizenship has its privileges, what does it mean for me as a follower of Christ?

I have heard Tim Keller once say in a seminar that “the poor a city without walls.” They have no defense, no friends, no power, and no leverage. I spent many hours this week so angry, frustrated, and helpless with my Brazilian friend, that I expressed my deepest apologies for not being able to do anything more than sit with him and watch as their whole lives suddenly were pushed to the very edge. And he turned to me in his broken English and said, “No, I have nobody. Only you sit with me.”

So now that bail has been posted. We have a court date. And we sit some more.

Have mercy on us, O God. I do not enjoy sitting for something I cannot stand. Thank you for inviting me to sit.