“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
No buses back then, our ancestors arrived at the Statue of Liberty on big boats, very big boats. Chock full of immigrants – some of them having paid passage, some of them trading for passage, some of them stowing away. No matter which way they came, they came in droves – tired and ready to start a new, better life in the land of opportunity. So arrived my great-grandfather Denato Quagliato from Italy about a hundred years ago. I am very thankful for this, because that’s why I exist today. 🙂
Now, I don’t know much about Italy in the early 1900s, but I doubt they were experiencing the type of violence that exists currently in Central America.
Am I an expert about the situation in Central American and why children are coming in thousands? No. But what I do know, I know from listening to the traumatic experiences from others, both through my work and through my personal life. I know it’s not pretty and that I would make the same choice if I were in their circumstances.
Another thing I know is that, as a Christian, I am called to love and care for foreigners in our land. There are countless verses in the Bible about this, but here is one that comes to mind: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – NIV).
Perhaps it has been so long since we have been foreigners (for me, it was three or four or more generations ago), that we have forgotten what it means to be lost and scared in a new land. Perhaps our ancestors have not passed down the stories of hardships from where they came from and when they arrived (I know mine haven’t). Perhaps we feel we are so different from them, entitled by our station in life or country status, that we don’t need to love them.
I’m not sure. I just know I want to be on the side of love.
“ When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34 – NIV).
I have heard many arguments against undocumented immigrants and against accepting the Central American children as refugees and against immigration itself. Some of the arguments revolve around us earning our right to be in this country. My response to this is that I was born here but I didn’t earn being born here; it just happened that way. Some of the arguments revolve around stealing our jobs and eating up our resources. My response to this has to do with compassion: if I have 100 loaves of bread and someone has none but he/she has risked his/her life to just get one loaf and not starve to death, I’m going to give them some of my bread.
What I think is the greater issue and the main driving force to many of these arguments is combination of a fear of the unknown and the tendency to dislike those who are different from us. The unknown is scary and if you don’t know any immigrants or any undocumented immigrants, it is hard to put a face to things and understand them. People have been dealing with this for thousands of years. The way to overcome fear is to face it and the way to face this fear is to talk with people and understand them.
This is the first post in a series about immigration. Future posts will include interviews with immigrants living in the U.S. and with people living in countries currently experiencing violence, danger, and/or extreme poverty. I hope this will help you understand more about why people come to the U.S. and encourage you to examine yourself and your own thoughts about immigration.
Back in Jesus’ time, there weren’t undocumented and documented immigrants but people still wanted to justify their mistreatment/lack of compassion for others. The Bible doesn’t tell us who to love and who not to love, but rather says to love everyone.
I shall leave you with this story from the Bible, Luke 10:25-37 in the NIV:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:25-37 – NIV)