Immigration is one of the most polarizing issues that presents itself today. It’s the stuff of debate and divisiveness more often than open-minded dialogue. We have mental pictures or words and labels that spring to mind to describe and identity the 41 million immigrants who live in the US. We’re astounded by the large number (11-12 million) without documentation.
For some, the state where I live – California – is the butt of scornful comments and jokes. We have the largest number of immigrants in the country, the largest share of an immigrant population when compared to the overall state population, and the largest absolute growth of immigrants compared to the state population in the entire country. More locally, the Bay Area is particularly affected with immigration as we have high profile touch points everywhere, from immigration courts in San Francisco to detention centers in Richmond to the incredible diversity of neighborhoods in Oakland and the Monument Corridor in Concord. Immigrants – lots of them – live in California.
This past summer the media focused on the large insurgence of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America attempting to enter the US. This summer a similar wave of unaccompanied minors is expected.
Listen to that phrase – unaccompanied minors. Recognize that in most other contexts we’d just call them kids.
I spoke with a local leader who catalyzes faith communities into the local story of immigration who shared a story of a child who, at the age of 14, came to the Bay Area from Guatemala to work in order to financially support his mom and little sister. He’s 14. He’s been in and out of immigration detention centers. He’s told he needs to be in school but, without work, he’s not able to support his mother and little sister. This is the reality of his story right now.
At Open Door, we talk about the dream of seeing heaven and earth woven together again here in the east bay and beyond. Seeing that dream come true involves caring well for those whose lives and stories are shaped by the immigrants’ journey. Seeing that dream come true requires each of us – regardless of our status, birthplace, or documentation – to recognize how our lives and our stories are shaped by the immigrants’ journey.
There is far less distance between “them” and “us” than we often admit, and immigration is something we need to talk about. But we can’t to just talk about it as a current political crisis. It’s a bigger story than that.
There may be 12 million in our midst without legal residence status, but 98-99 percent of us living in the US have a story of immigration in our lineage. As often as we like to forget, all but a very small percentage of us are here because of immigration.
As followers of Jesus, we are invited to see not stranger, immigrant or “other” but neighbor, sister or brother. One of the more common Greek words in the New Testament for immigrant or sojourner is the same word that would be used for neighbor, from the same root as our word parish. The stories of immigration that surround and encompass us are lexically and intimately woven together with our ability to care for a place and fulfill what Jesus called the Greatest Commandments (Matthew 22).
We can’t simply think of immigration as a crisis.
Immigration is a reality that shapes all of our stories.
Immigration is an opportunity for faithfulness and formation.