Outside of my home country of South Korea, there is no other country except the United States where people can assume that I am “one of them.” This is because there are Americans that look like me, and also perhaps because of this Chicagoan accent that I’ve picked up over the past 10 years. My point is, while I am technically a stranger in this country, I can pass as “one of you.”
I have stood in the immigration line at O’Hare airport and LAX many times and recently went from standing in the “non U.S. citizen/permanent resident” line to the “U.S. citizen/permanent resident” line. The thing that struck me about the two lines was that they were so much the same. It was hard to tell who the strangers were and who they weren’t.
All this to say that I think our rationale for advocating immigration reform cannot be based on this idea that we are welcoming strangers. If you look into the issue of immigration reform, and the people that are impacted by the currently broken immigration system, they are not strangers. Many of them know nothing else but the U.S. as their home. To call these folks strangers seems a little strange to me (no pun intended).
We are all excited about President Obama’s administrative action to delay the deportation of undocumented youth and young adults who have been in the U.S. for the majority of their lives. They speak English with a thicker American accent than many American citizens. They know no other home country but the United States. Sometimes people are surprised to find out who actually is affected by our broken immigration system.
They are not strangers, they are our neighbors.
I think the issue with immigration reform being framed as something to do with strangers is fundamentally problematic because it creates this “us” and “other” dynamic. In my experience organizing, most people don’t want to get involved with an issue they feel has very little to do with them. The issue with immigration is more than letting strangers stay in “our country” legally; it is about loving our neighbors.
We must advocate for immigration reform because the current broken immigration system is hurting our neighbors. Jesus’ commandment to us is to love our God and then to love our neighbors as ourselves. Advocating for positive change in our immigration system, for immigration reform, is a very concrete way that we can love our neighbors. We would never be okay with our families being pulled apart, being abused by employers because of their immigration status, and we should not be okay with these things happening to our neighbors.
Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow is a national organizer at Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org), a faith-based organization that engages religious communities to be better advocates for low wage workers’ rights. Sung Yeon is a graduate of Wheaton College and McCormick Theological Seminary.
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