When welcoming the stranger only involves politics, it is tempting to advocate for the natural protagonists. Children abandoned in the US when their mother is deported solely for being in the US without the proper authorization. Youth who have worked hard in high school, scraped together scholarships in university and want to be the best citizens possible of a country where they don’t have immigration status. The list of such cases is long and tragic and compels action for justice.
You won’t hear about Isaías* in most immigration rallies. He was deported when he was 21 after 7 years in jail for a crime that he declines to describe. Immigration advocates also don’t like to mention Pedro, a 28 year old who lived in the streets before migrating to the US and upon arrival became a leader of his gang in Los Angeles. He owned the houses and the cars and told the other members where and when to deliver the drugs.
Those are some of the people I meet here in Mexico. Not exactly the poster children for immigration reform. No possible legislation would include legalization for immigrants with criminal records like theirs, nor am I suggesting that it should.
But do we as Christians have room for them? After all, Jesus dined with sinners and tax collectors. When the Pharisees challenged his decision, he responded “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matthew 9:12b NIV).
The vast majority of immigrants come to the US, work hard, and focus on supporting their families. But as Christians we must remember that all immigrants are human beings loved by God, even those whose activities in the US are illegal or immoral.
At the end of the day, when we talk about welcoming the stranger and loving our neighbors we don’t do so because the stranger and neighbor are always the protagonists. We do so because Christ is the protagonist. Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). Let us remember in our advocacy that some of those we are called to love are actually broken people, and need the radical love of Christ that we also have received.
The lives of the deported migrants that I have met do not end at the border. Isaías is married, has a four year old kid and lives in a rural town, where upon return he started working in the fields but now sells food at the local kindergarten. Pedro is studying to be a nurse and recording music videos in a large city in Mexico.
But neither thinks that Christianity has much relevance in their lives. They were always the bad guys and were not welcomed in, whether in the US or in Mexico.
What would it look like for us as the body of Christ to radically love all immigrants? What if we emulated God’s love and in that way witnessed for him in every situation? What if we radically welcome in the stranger?
*Names changed to protect privacy
Joanna Foote is a recent graduate of Georgetown University who is currently spending a year in Mexico with a Fulbright grant to research the reintegration of deported and return migrants. Her thoughts on migration, Mexico, and faith can be found on her blog: fromlafrontera.wordpress.com.
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.