Editors Note: Every Friday, we will try to feature one of our G92 Fellows as guest contributors. G92 Fellows are a group of college students who are committed to mobilizing their campuses around the country for immigration reform.
This past week saw my first event as a G92 Fellow at my school, as I was able to partner with two organizations on campus to put on an immigration roundtable discussion. Three of the school’s professors, serving in the economics, missions and sociology departments, agreed to sit for an hour to talk about what immigration looks like from there own perspective. In addition to these professors, an undocumented student that goes to my school as well as a representative from a local advocacy group were able to lend their voices to the discussion.
While all of the presenters were fantastic, I was drawn especially to the missions professor and the presentation that she gave on immigration. Whereas the other professors talked about statistics and the need for reform based on empirical data, this professor took a radically different route.
The first of the points that she made was that the immigrant was one that was especially protected by God. After killing his brother in Genesis 4, Cain is cursed to become a wanderer by God. Even in light of this, however, God promises to protect Cain, imprinting him so that no one would harm him. Even in the midst of chaotic times and an amoral history, God protected the sojourner, ensuring that he would indeed be safe.
Another point that she made is in the story of Ruth, who was a Moabite that was working in the fields for Boaz. Boaz, the son of Rahab, shows compassion and fairness towards her, ensuring that she would be protected in his fields. This is not where the story ends, however, as they soon end up together with kids. What is remarkable about this story is not Boaz’s actions or Ruth’s faithfulness, although these are indeed magnificent in and of themselves. What is important is the recognition that the author of Matthew chooses to draw Jesus’ lineage through both Ruth and Rahab. Not only does Jesus show compassion and love towards the wanderer, he is ultimately identified in and through them. Matthew’s gospel relies fundamentally on the recognition that those who have no home are those with whom Christ resides.
What then does this mean for us now, however?
Often regarded as the nation’s strictest anti-immigration law, Alabama’s HB56 of 2011, among other things, prohibits even the transportation of undocumented immigrants, including for religious or medical reasons. In response to this, a group of United Methodists clergy led by Will Willimon wrote an open letter to the governor, stating among other things that “we do not check people’s immigration status before inviting them into our church vans and cars. We United Methodist clergy will continue to be in ministry to all people and we call on all United Methodists to do the same.”
The heart of the open letter that was sent is simply this: we will not comply. They chose not to comply because many of the people that were affected by this unjust law were members of their own community.
As time goes on, there is no doubt that media coverage of the House vote on reform will be heavy laden with statistics, both factual and fabricated. Economists will talk about the effect it has on the market, and criminologists will study the change in crimes based on immigration. I will be ready to openly discuss those topics, and I invite any and all to engage in dialogue to reach a substantiated understanding of migration. These statistics and fact are essential to the conversation, and I am nonetheless certain that the details are overwhelmingly in favor of reforming our current system.
Do know, however, that this discussion must not be based on statistics and dry, lifeless information. For those in the faith community that may be undocumented or have family and friends facing deportation, this goes deeper than many of us can imagine. Immigration is fundamental to our identity as Christians, and the story of the immigrant is our collective story of a people who are in the throngs of redemption and ultimately liberation. We are to care about immigration because, in affecting those with whom we live in community, it affects us.
The apostle Paul writes in the first letter to the Corinthians that “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
The minute that we forget that the immigrant’s story is our own, we have separated ourselves from the heart of the debate on immigration reform. We cannot afford to engage this disinterestedly, for it is in that moment that we as a body of faith abandon our duty to one another.
Isaiah Fish is a senior Social Justice major at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN. Graduating in May, he plans enroll in the Masters of Divinity program at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
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.