“Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.” ~Charles Dickens
I’ll admit that my generation (the “Millennials” or “Generation Y”) has its defects. We carry around a sense of entitlement, we are glued to our computer screens and smartphones; our communication skills (the 5-paragraph essay variety, not the 140-character kind) leave something to be desired.
In recent years, however, 20-somethings have led the way in awareness and activism. Visit a college campus and observe the number of TOMS-clad feet. Take note of the demographic of shoppers in line at Trader Joe’s, baskets full of fair-trade goods.
Unfortunately, though, my generation—and Americans in general—overlook a humanitarian crisis in our very backyards. Injustice and exploitation are not exclusively distant problems. There is a phenomenon occurring in our country that looks something like this: human beings, seeking to escape poverty, violence or political instability and provide a better life for their families, have entered this country. Most of these immigrants are positive additions to our nation; they contribute to the economy and enrich the cultural makeup. But because many lack proper documentation, they are vilified. Rather than receiving hospitality and protection, the strangers among us are commonly treated with disdain and racism. Sadly, undocumented immigrants are often victims of fraud, unlivable wages, inhumane work conditions, and in extreme cases, human trafficking. Because they are not permitted to live or work in the U.S., they are the most vulnerable to these evils.
In some states, undocumented immigrants have withdrawn their children from school and stay shut in their houses out of fear of deportation. Restrictive laws have achieved their purpose of encouraging “self-deportation”—immigrants returning to their native countries because the local government has made “life so difficult, so unpleasant.” But for many families, this presents a catch-22. In cities like Juarez, Mexico, violence prevails and an average of five people are killed each day. One mother, who recently fled Alabama and resettled with her children in her native Mexico, said that her fear of danger was much greater there and she would prefer to take her chances living illegally in the U.S than in Mexico where “I’m afraid they are going to kill my children or me.” (This goes to show that no matter how restrictive our laws are, push factors will continue to send immigrants across our borders).
I fully agree that the U.S. ought to be a place where laws are respected. Ideally, the current immigration system would be reformed in order to permit families seeking safety and economic stability to live and work legally in the U.S.
My hope, however, is that we wouldn’t overlook those who are being mistreated in our midst. Our duty is to care for the vulnerable rather than judge them—and the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States are among the most vulnerable. I do not mean to diminish the value of the “trendier” causes—providing shoes for children and ensuring that farmers receive fair wages are of great significance. Nor am I trying elevate the plight of undocumented workers above gross injustices such as the genocides occurring in other parts of the world. However, we need to be aware that in God’s eyes, our racism, abuse, and hatred are as reprehensible as murder (I John 3:15), and that the responsibility to seek justice and care for the oppressed does not exclude our own neighbors.
Iris Clement, a graduate of Lee University, works in North Carolina as an English as a Second Language instructor. She grew up in Romania as the daughter of Campus Crusade for Christ missionaries and recently spent a year teaching in Colombia as a Fulbright grantee. She is involved in local ministry to Latino families.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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