What is Your Immigration Status?
By Pastor Gary Mills
Since its inception, the United States has struggled with developing a just-criteria for immigrants, first as it related to people of color, and more recently as it relates to those without legal documentation or refugees who are economically impoverished. The roots of this struggle lie in America’s arduous history as it relates to slavery. In 1776 as the American colonies were preparing to separate from Great Britain, Thomas Jefferson wrote what has become almost a sacred document for not only Americans but for oppressed people across the globe who seek freedom, justice and an opportunity to have a better life.
In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the prophetic words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” When the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, I do not believe that they had any idea that they would be motivating marginalized people across the world, generation after generation, to seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because the Declaration, even though it professed that all were created equal, in reality was meant only for white, land-owning men. When America was born free people of color and women had few if any rights, and slaves had no rights at all. Even after slavery ended people of African descent continued to experience discrimination and were denied full citizenship rights as a result of Jim Crow laws that were pervasive across the land.
Nevertheless, God is a God who loves all people and cares especially for the oppressed and marginalized. So God empowered people like Rosa Parks, Medgar Evans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. to initiate, form and lead the civil rights movement and to work to dismantle legalized segregation. Finally, descendants of African slaves were no longer second class but had full citizenship rights even though many continue to be denied those rights.
And so the battle continues. Every year tens of thousands of people from around the world flee their home country and travel to America because it is perceived as a modern-day promise land. Our own congregation, as well as many of our own families, are examples of this massive migration and movement of people.
Because one’s home country is being ravaged by violence due to civil war or gang-related oppression, many become immigrants. Some leave their home countries because of economic conditions. Some become migrants because of human rights abuses. But no matter the reason behind the migration of millions of people, all want and deserve to be received and welcomed and respected. All want and deserve to be treated and respected as we treat any guest in our home or in our church.
We all want to live in a land flowing with milk and honey, where we are not denigrated or made to feel less than someone else just because we happen to be a different color, speak a different language, have a different economic status or do not have “proper” documentation. We all want to be judged by the content of our character and to live in a land where we are treated with dignity, respect and justice. We are all created in God’s image and we rightfully expect to be treated like children of God.
None of us wants to fear being deported or having someone we love deported. None of us wants to have to work harder and smarter than our co-workers and still receive less money and be the first laid-off because our employers are exploiting us as a result of our immigration status. None of us wants to live in fear day after day and night after night. None of us wants or deserves to live in the shadows.
Here at Advent, as so many churches around the country do, we work with people who are hurting, scared, marginalized and afraid because they are undocumented. Many have had friends and loved ones deported. It is dehumanizing and becomes more and more difficult to fight against an unjust immigration system. It takes courage, patience, persistence, passion and perseverance. It is not an easy fight but it is a necessary one. And it is one to which we, as God’s children, are all called. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In other words, we can never have a just society if we allow injustice to exist anywhere. As long as anyone in our faith community is caught up in the bondage of fear because of their immigration status we are all in bondage because we are connected in Christ.
During the civil rights movement a lot of people felt that Dr. King should have just continued to pastor his middle-class black church in Birmingham, Alabama and leave things the way they were, separate and unequal. But Dr. King knew that he had to try to make a difference. He knew he had to stand up and fight against segregation even if it meant hurt, harm, danger or even death for him or his family.
Likewise, today it is our moral duty to speak out, stand up, advocate and fight for changes to an unjust and inhumane immigration system. We can never feel fully American or be content as Christians as long as there are people living in this country who pay taxes, who abide by the laws of the land, who want to feel safe and secure and want to contribute fully to this society but are constantly denied equal status and basic human rights because they are undocumented. It is not right to make people who wish to become American citizens wait year after year after year without giving them a clear and reasonable path to citizenship.
And so it is time to put our fear aside, time to stop crying and complaining, time to put the pursuit of earthly things aside, time to get up from our comfortable stations and speak up and fight for the immigrant and a just reform of our immigration system and policies. Immigration reform is not going to happen without us working and advocating to change our laws and practices. We have to be willing vessels of God who will fight for change. And we must pray fervently and constantly for such change for we can do all things in Christ Jesus who strengthens us. We become better Christians and the people around us become better members of this global society in which we live when we fight for justice and equal rights for all.
As Christians fighting for national immigration reform we remember that our true immigration status has no national boundaries. Our true immigration status has no quota system or lottery. Our true immigration status is open and available to everyone. Our true immigration status is in heaven with Christ where all are equal.
Jesus was with God in the beginning and all things came into being through him. Jesus did not consider it robbery to be born in a manger because there was no room at the inn. Jesus was a migrant, hidden away in Egypt as a baby for a few years because King Herod was trying to kill him. Jesus confounded the temple priest with his wisdom when he was only a child. Jesus healed the lame and gave sight to the blind. Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus fed the hungry with food and heavenly knowledge. Jesus marched to Jerusalem even though he knew he would be betrayed and put to death. Jesus hung on a cross, bled and died for you and for me. And Jesus rose.
And at the mention of his name every knee will bow on earth and in heaven. Jesus is Lord! So we fear no one. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the LORD. The enemies of the cross can take away our earthly immigration status but they can never take away our immigration status in heaven. They can send us back to Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, but they can’t keep us from going to heaven.
The enemies of the cross can take away our physical life but they can never ever take away our eternal life. They can take away our liberty but they can never take away the blessed assurance that we have been liberated by Jesus. They can take away our pursuit of happiness in America and elsewhere but they can never ever take away our unspeakable joy in Jesus!
So what is your immigration status? If you have been baptized you already have all the paperwork necessary for your earthly immigration journey toward heaven. You also have every right and responsibility to fight for the same for others.