Category Archives: Immigration

Why some legal immigrants are afraid these days

HandcuffedIt’s very difficult today to separate the topic of immigration from political partisanship. I’m going to ask you today to try to do just that. Let’s not talk about the ins and outs of immigration laws nor enforcement.

Please hear me today as I try to address the feelings of immigrants. I’ve tried this in the past. On this blog, it had mixed success; fortunately, it went much better in the congregation that I’m a part of.

At that time, I talked about Hispanics who felt uneasy because of changes in immigration enforcement. A lot of people thought that was only those who were here illegally. In fact, many questioned why legal immigrants would feel uneasy. A story in the news this week shows why many feel uneasy.

(Yes, this may be an isolated incident. No, no one is saying that this is evidence of widespread raids targeting Hispanics. Please put down your politics for a moment, pick up your compassion, and keep reading)

Fox News reports:

According to Sava’s representative Bree Stillwell, who spoke with, five ICE agents entered the dining establishment at about 11:30 a.m. to eat breakfast. When they were done, they “went into the kitchen to apprehend one of our employees who wasn’t on at the time,” as they suspected he did not have the proper documentation.
When the ICE agents realized the employee wasn’t on duty, Stillwell says they turned their attention to other cooks in the kitchen, and started demanding their documentation instead.

One employee had an especially bad time. Yahoo notes:

About the same time, line cook Carlos Rivera-Ochoa took out the trash in the back when officers slapped handcuffs on him, according to Lelcaj. Rivera-Ochoa told MLive he carries his permanent residency card with him, and he was released shortly after being taken into a vehicle and fingerprinted.

So Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents went to a restaurant looking for a certain individual. Upon not finding them, they began questioning others about their immigration status. One legal immigrant (with documentation) was handcuffed, placed in a vehicle, fingerprinted, then released.

This is what many legal immigrants fear. Will it become commonplace? I doubt it. Will there be widespread raids? I doubt it.

Will many people live with a degree of fear and uncertainty? I’m sure of it.

The New York Daily News has this from the restaurant owner:

Lelcaj said that she and her team were shaken by the incident. “They are feeling like they can get arrested anytime because of the color of their skin. There is heightened fear in their community,” she said.

The next time you hear about fearful immigrants, please respond as a Christian and not just a Democrat or a Republican. The fear exists, whether it’s justified or not. Show some compassion.

Clarifying some statements on immigrants

OK, so last week’s post about hurting people drew a lot of attention. It was primarily directed to my home church and has led to some very healthy discussion within that church. Our leadership has stepped up in amazing ways.

But I also know that what I’ve written has created some misconceptions, and I take responsibility for that. Let me try and address some things:

  • The vast majority of the church members that attend our bilingual service at the University church in Abilene are in the United States legally.
  • The hurt felt within the Hispanic community extends far beyond the subset that doesn’t have proper immigration status. Much goes to the climate around what’s going on; see my post about the border wall to get a feel for that.
  • In a comment, I stated that illegal immigration is not a crime. I should have said that being here without proper status is not a crime. The act of crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor, which is considered a crime. A large percentage of those who are here illegally entered on a legal basis. During the campaign for the G.O.P. nomination, Marco Rubio put the figure at 40%; surprisingly, there are no good numbers available to confirm or contradict that. Rubio’s guess seems to reflect a good approximation.
  • I have never suggested to a Christian that they enter the U.S. illegally. I personally don’t know any Christians that have done so. I do know many who became Christians after entering the country.
  • About two-thirds of those who reside in the U.S. illegally have been here for more than 10 years. ( Most Christians that I’ve known who are here illegally are not border hoppers; they fall into this category of people who have come to establish a new life.
  • Someone having broken the law does not preclude our extending compassion toward them. I wrote this in a comment on Facebook the other day: “If someone who is texting hits someone and kills them, can I not feel compassion for them even if they are suffering for their own mistake? What if they drive drunk and kill themselves; should I not feel for their families even though the loss was based on a broken law?”

I’ve written lots about the justice and injustice of our current immigration system. There’s nothing black and white about this situation; anyone who tries to reduce this issue to a phrase or two is on the wrong path.

But one thing is black and white: we are called to show compassion to our brothers and sisters who are hurting. A lot of people quoted Romans 13 to me; few quoted Matthew 25. The first one is about them; the second about us. It’s always easier to point out what they’ve done wrong.

I don’t have brown skin

Skin Brown Skin Brown Skin Up Close Skin Up Close

As we’ve talked about showing compassion for immigrants, a number of people have wondered why people who are here legally would be anxious about an uptick in immigration enforcement.

I’d bet most of those people don’t have brown skin.

“Aha! I knew you’d play the race card sometime.”

When discussing immigrants, even Latino immigrants, there shouldn’t be a race card to play. “Latino” or “Hispanic” aren’t races; they are ethnicities. That is, there are white Latinos, black Latinos, yellow Latinos, and brown Latinos. And there are plenty of people with brown skin who are neither Latino nor are they immigrants.

But we know who the brunt of this enforcement will fall on. When my friend Carlos was arrested for not having papers with him, he was merely the passenger in a car driven by someone who committed a violation (a U.S. citizen). Yet Carlos “looks Mexican” and was asked to prove his legal status. Unable to do so, he was arrested.

What documentation do you carry with you to prove your legal status? Ever been out with a friend when you weren’t driving? Did you worry about carrying your “papers” with you? Do you often carry your passport or other documentation showing your citizenship?

If you don’t have brown skin, probably not. If you’re one of the 2/3 of Hispanics that live here that were born in this country, you probably haven’t thought about that either. Yet I’ve had Hispanic friends who were asked to show their green card, even though they were born here. Why? They are Hispanic… and look like what most people think Hispanics look like.

My son probably doesn’t have to worry about it, even though he was born in Argentina and identifies as Hispanic. He doesn’t have brown skin. He’s okay.

Let me use an example from Argentina. Different country. Different laws. But maybe the illustration will help some. We had two young men in our congregation who regularly got around on motorcycles. One was stopped several times a week by the police to have his papers checked and his backpack searched. One was rarely stopped and never searched.

Can you guess the difference? The first young man was from the north of Argentina and looked “Bolivian” to most Argentine eyes. The other was also from a different Argentine province, but he and his family looked very European.

I don’t expect things to reach those levels here, but I do know if police are tasked with looking for illegal immigrants, they won’t be tapping me on the shoulder and asking for my papers.

I don’t have brown skin.

If we are members of the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, we should be hurting today

Everyone in our congregation should be concerned right now. Everyone. The same probably goes for your congregation.

I don’t really care what your thoughts are on immigration policy, at least not today. Today is a day to think as a Christian, not a Republican or a Democrat.

The Hispanic community in Abilene is upset. Nervous. Both those who are here legally and those who aren’t. They are uncertain about what the coming days bring for them and their loved ones. They know they are in for a time of distrust and suspicion, no matter their status. They are hurting right now.

This is true for Hispanic members of the church. They are scared. They are nervous. They are hurting.

We should be too.

But I agree with Trump’s immigration policy! (you say)

OK. That’s not the point of this post. This post is about weeping with those who weep. This is about compassion.

We can feel compassion even when we feel that someone is suffering because of something they’ve done wrong or that their family has done wrong. We can hurt for the alcoholic, whether or not we think they are to blame for their condition. We can hurt for families going through divorce, no matter what we see as the cause of their situation.

We don’t have to be pro-enforcement or anti-enforcement to hurt with those who hurt and weep with those who weep.

On Sunday, we had a baby blessing at our church. The father is Hispanic, the mother Anglo. Mom admitted that she would have preferred to do the blessing in the chapel where our bilingual group meets, but agreed to do it in the main auditorium because she had been told it would be encouraging to the main congregation. Everyone wanted to see that our congregation has young families that are growing.

When we have baptisms, we often do them during worship time, even though that’s very disruptive for the bilingual group. Why do we do that? So the whole congregation can rejoice together upon seeing a new birth. (Over the last few years, a disproportionate number of the baptisms at church have come from the bilingual group)

We want to rejoice with our Hispanic brothers. We want their joys and their triumphs to be the joys and triumphs of the whole congregation.

Therefore the whole congregation needs to be hurting today. We need to weep with those who weep. We need to feel the pain of the children who don’t understand legal and illegal; all they know is that Mexicans are being rounded up and sent away… and their parents are Mexicans. Kids don’t understand the difference. Their peers will still taunt them and bully them about being taken away by immigration. You may think that their parents are at fault, but you can still hurt for the children.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim the joy and not claim the hurt. We can’t share the laughter if we aren’t willing to share the tears.

I don’t really care right now what you think about immigration policy. I do very much care what you think about Hispanics today, both those inside the church and out. How we react to them today, how we treat them during these hard times, how we talk about what’s going on… all of that will affect the church’s outreach for decades to come. And will affect our brothers and sisters today.

Weep with those who weep. Hurt with those who hurt.

Talk to school teachers. Hear their stories about the confusion kids are feeling right now. Think about the Hispanics you know who are working in restaurants, doing construction, laboring on farms. Whether or not they are here legally, they are going to face increased scrutiny, increased suspicion, increased discrimination. Feel for them. Embrace their pain as your own.

All of UCC Abilene needs to be upset and hurting today. All of us need to be nervous about what’s coming in the days ahead. Today, I don’t care about your politics; I care about your compassion.

If we are members of the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, we should be hurting today. (Those of you in other churches should consider your church’s situation)

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

Immigration reform

We need to reform the immigration system in the United States. That needs to be top priority. There should be a system that provides security while showing compassion. There should be a system that controls the entry of foreigners while providing needed workers for the labor force.

We must do away with the current situation which creates demand for workers from other countries while offering no legal way for them to come. We must undermine the coyote system which preys on the most vulnerable in society.

Above all, we need to stop using refugees and migrant workers as scapegoats for the real problems in this system. Focus attention on what is creating the injustices in the system rather than attack those least able to defend themselves. Address the security risks from the wealthy who enter this country, not just the poor. The tourists, businessmen, and international students who provide money for this country somehow escape the discussions about security risks, even though they are much more likely to have the resources to do actual harm to this country and to create organized criminal activity.

More than walls, this country needs an effective immigration system, one that isn’t created just to please one party’s constituency or the other’s. Until proposals for creating such are on the table, recognize that political discussions of immigration will be nothing more than demagoguery. May Christians not fall sway to such.