Thursday, October 9, 2008

Welcoming the Stranger

Matthew 25:43: I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.

Last month my roommate and I drove Diego and his cousin Luis to the car repair shop. Earlier that month he had been hit by another car who pulled out of a driveway and ran right into him. His car was fairly damaged and one of his friends in the car with him was bleeding. He decided to call the police. The police came and within minutes Diego had a ticket and a court date. Why? He was driving without a license. It didn't matter that the other person claimed responsibility for the accident. Later, on the day of his court date, the court room was filled with Hispanics there for similar reasons. The root of the problem: Diego is an undocumented immigrant. He can't get a license.

Diego is 20 and came to the US to join his family here and to help support his wife and young daughter back in Mexico. He works at a restaurant in town and now rides his bike to work. He pays taxes off his paycheck (without any of the benefits, of course), is taking English classes, and plays soccer on Mondays at a local park.

In the last months my eyes have been opened to the glaring injustices of our American immigration system. My apartment complex, smack dab in the middle of the western suburbs of Chicago often noted for their wealth, is roughly made up of 40% Mexicans. Most of them are undocumented. What does this mean? It means among many other things that they can't work legally, they can't get drivers licenses, and they face the threat of, if caught, being deported and forced to leave everything here behind, often including other family members. Just think how crucial it is to have a driver's license (the main form of ID) and social security number here in the US. Without one, everything is more difficult and much is simply impossible.

Everyone—the government, the businesses, the police--- knows that there are undocumented people all around. Take the court room scenario described above. The judge knows that all these Hispanics are illegal. The same thing goes for the police officer who gave him the ticket. The system, which benefits from them, turns a blind eye. The truth is we all benefit from them and our system depends on them. Their low-cost labor, the taxes they pay, etc, all contribute to the American way of life and economic system. They, due to their undocumented status, however, do not reap the benefits from that system (health insurance, retirement, legal protection…) that they contribute to uphold. This is a glaring injustice to which many of us "documented" people are blind.

The truth is, however, that they are not a "they" or a "them." Undocumented immigrants are not "illegal aliens," or the "immigration problem." They are beautiful people with names and faces made in the image of God. As Christians we are to remember that our loyalty is not ultimately to the nation-state with its artificial drawn borders and little pieces of paper that make claims as to who is to be welcomed or not. Our "status" comes from elsewhere. Our allegiance is to a foreign country, to a foreign King named Christ. It is to his higher law of hospitality that we are to submit. Ultimately, we as Christians are all strangers and aliens here on earth.

Some Quick Stats on Undocumented Immigrants in the US:

-Only 56% of undocumented immigrants are from Mexico. There are also 1.5 million from Asia and 600,000 undocumented Canadians and Europeans.

-The Social Security Administration estimates that 3 out of 4 are paying payroll taxes, accounting for $6 billion per year in Social Security revenue paid in the last year that does not match a valid Social Security number

- 1 in 3 live in “mixed status” families, with at least one member a US citizen

My roommate Matt has finished writing a book on the issue of immigration and how the church should respond. It is called "Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate." Click on this link to get more information on the book and to join the facebook group.

-See this link on the sanctuary movement among US churches working to protect immigrants facing deportation.

1 comment:

emily said...

"They are beautiful people with names and faces made in the image of God."

Amen. Thanks for the reminder.

I'm so glad you and Matt are enjoying your neighbors and sharing your lives with them, Jonathan- so important.

Have you read Middle of Everywhere by Mary Pipher? One of the best books I've read in the last few years (slash ever) and a beautiful and moving portrait of immigrants and refugees in America.