Somewhere in Georgia tonight, a mom will be missing her son. She will be worrying about whether or not he is thriving in a country that he does not remember. He was deported from this country during a raid that played out like it was a scene from a horror movie. The son “looks and sounds” American which equals rich in the eyes of the people in that small town and puts a target on his back for thieves. He knows no family there and is scared. He is isolated and alone with no place to truly call home anymore.
This scene isn’t rare. I hear about it more times than I care to share. It’s not always a mother and son. Often it’s a woman with children, left here without their primary breadwinner, missing a husband and father, and left vulnerable in a world of searches, ID checks, and raids on homes.
While we have a great many systems that work and work well in our country, one broken system in particular has captured my heart and attention. The immigration system in our nation, simply put, is broken. From the number of visas we give out, to the backlog of immigration cases, to the way we incarcerate those who are here without documents in for-profit detention centers, our system is in need of a just, humane overhaul. For United Methodists, the call for overhaul is especially felt. Within our very churches we can tell terrible stories of families that are torn apart. My church’s own sister congregation saw a dramatic loss in congregants when Georgia passed an Arizona-style law that seeks to viciously crack down on those here in this country without proper documentation.
The thing I hear most from people who disagree with me is that they wish the undocumented folks would simply “get in the right line” and follow the law. I wish (and many of my undocumented friends wish!) that it was that easy. The so-called line does not exist for many who aren’t highly skilled and recruited by companies. Average laborers have short stay visa options and precious few green cards. The wait time for those green cards approaches infinity for unskilled laborers. [Reason Magazine had a great graphic detailing this back in 2008 http://reason.org/files/a87d1550853898a9b306ef458f116079.pdf]. Those here on those visas are easy targets for wage theft and substandard working conditions.
I wish I could tell you the situation has gotten much better since 2008, but it hasn’t. Children are left orphaned in the U.S. as their parents are dramatically taken from them at work or in their home while their children are away at school. Other undocumented children came here so young that they’ve never known another way of life. Many graduate and are then told they aren’t citizens and can’t do anything they would hope to do like college or the military.
I live in Macon, Georgia, which is not exactly the seat of progressive politics or theology, but I am surprised at who and which groups agree with me on this issue. Republicans and Democrats alike see the need for immigration reform. Farmers have need for migrant laborers. Business owners see the number of positions and institutions across our state rely on immigrant labor. Many see the human rights concerns.
God’s people are crying out. Nobody wants to leave their home and come to a place where they will be treated like enemy combatants. Yet conditions in home countries are so bad that people are willing to risk arrest and deportation for a chance to feed, clothe, and educate themselves and their children – all in the hope that life, can in fact, be better. As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, the way we treat those strangers in our midst should NOT be dictated not by the government laws, but by the laws of God. Over and over again in the Old and New Testament we are commanded to take care of those who are a stranger in our midst and especially the widows and orphans among us. We are called to recognize the image of God in our brother and sister and to practice hospitality to strangers. We remember that our very Lord was once an immigrant in a foreign land when his parents fled to Egypt to flee a life of a fear. And we are called to live into the example of Jesus who lived on the edges, traveled more than he stayed put during his three years of ministry, and had a special knack for befriending the “marginal people” of his society. We are called to love and serve all of our neighbors – all of them.
Will you hear the call and ask our legislators for just, humane immigration reform? If politics aren’t for you, will you think about ways you and your congregation can be welcoming to those in our midst? Will you prayerfully and actively seek to find ways to be a place of welcome and love for even the most vulnerable among us? And will you hear the call of God to go out from your buildings, neighborhoods, and places of comfort in order to seek and find and be with the very people on the margins of our society? After all, there’s a good chance Jesus will already be there.Rev. Stacey Harwell serves as Minister of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, GA She is an Ordained Deacon in the South Georgia Annual Conference. [And I am very thankful for her wisdom and proud to call her my friend]