Monday, March 09, 2009


Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is the issue of immigration (both legal and undocumented). As I wrote about a couple days ago, for my preaching class we'll be doing "public issues" sermons. This is supposed to be a sermon about the theological lens through which we are advised to see a particular issue in the "public realm." I'm planning to do something about immigration. I think I'll use passages on treating all people humanely, especially instructions about treating foreigners who live in one's country just the same as citizens.

The problem is, I'm woefully uneducated about the whole issue. I realize that people are immigrating to the US, especially from Mexico and Central and South America, as well as Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc., because they see life in the US as a more likely opportunity to live a better life. I'm not sure if that is what they encounter when they get here! The US employs many illegal immigrants as well as "migrant workers" to do jobs US citizens don't want to do. But still, although they're doing all our dirty work, we treat them with contempt, and throw them out of the country, disregarding their family structure and so forth.

I hope to learn Spanish when I'm done with school here. I hope to build relationships with people who are affected by immigration laws--both from being in the country without "legal" documentation, and from fear of being taken for an "illegal alien." I hope to begin breaking down barriers caused by language, culture, race, and class, and bring communities of Anglo Friends in contact with their Latino/a neighbors. In our Yearly Meeting we have several Hispanic Friends meetings, but only a few Anglo Friends actually have any contact with them, and there are few sources of support for them, and none really for issues of solidarity with the struggles faced by that community in regards to the law. Good things are being done, but we need to do more.

Who makes the laws? We do (supposedly). So we need to give voice to how we think those laws should go.

(This is obviously not an easy issue, because we can't just have people moving here as they please--then it would not be a good situation for anyone! But I think we as a nation need to start with better economic and political relationships with the countries in the rest of the Americas, so that the living situations there become better. We as individuals need to start by actively practicing hospitality--which means going outside our comfort zones, learning something new [like a new language], and doing more than just "tsking" and shaking our heads about the state of things).

Probably I'm doing too much "public issues" preaching on my blog and you're becoming overwhelmed by all the issues raised, but hey...that's what's in my head, so enjoy your moment of participation! =)


alisa said...

ugh, that's a really tough topic. it's been my experience that undocumented residents are some of the most vulnerable people in america. they have very few rights and the thought of deportation looms over their heads with every step. i applaud your decision to learn more about immigration law. it's incredibly messy (incredibly). another good area for research would be in the very act of crossing the border. it's extremely dangerous yet whole families do it...over and over. So that plays right in to two of your questions: "why do people risk their lives to do this?" and "how do we make it better?"

interestingly enough, with the current economy the way that it is, several of my clients have decided to return to mexico. we'll see if that becomes a trend.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a tough subject--but so relevant. I think of the past--Would it be better if the Indians living here 400 years ago had had an enforceable law against undocumented immigrants? The answer is obviously "yes" and "no". It ruined the Indians, but provided opportunity for the immigrants to enrich themselves and develop the kind of nation millions would like to immigrate into.

I have no fear the undocumented Mexicans are going to have that impact. In fact, many Americans profit a great deal from their work. For now I'll just go with your comments, and appreciate them.

Gr. Ralph

Tom Smith said...

Don't worry about doing too much "public issues" preaching. These are Concerns that Friends have always dealt with and in some cases have had a clear influence on.

Thanks for blogging!

Phil Thornburg said...

It is a tough subject but it needs addressing. Most countries have guest worker programs if you show your foreign ID and fill out the forms. We don't. It is easy for greedy business owners to take advantage of this foolish non-system that we have.
There are many other landscape companies that hire individuals to whom they pay cash under the table and do not withhold taxes, pay workman's comp, medical or dental etc. This takes advantage of the poor undocumented person by underpaying them and It makes it impossible for me to compete because I withhold taxes, I pay over minimum wage, I pay all of the rest of the things we are supposed to pay to support our bureaucracy.
Therefore, I support creating a guest worker program so that the individuals would be legally here working, but competing fairly with citizens and other businesses. They would then be contributing to society rather than bleeding the system because of being used by greedy business owners.

Anonymous said...

I am a Friend of the NWYM (Northwest Yearly Meeting) and this has become a "hot" topic for discussion within our body as well.

As others have stated, it really is a complex issue with no single, simple solution.

As Christians, and Quakers, I believe it is our call to not turn our backs on those living amonst us who are suffering, whether they are illigial or not. That's not to say we have to condone, or accept or justify someones breaking the law by immigrating here illigally, but we must find a way to care for these people in spite of their status. The sad truth, as someone mentioned in an earlier post, is that much of the abuse in illigials and jobs comes from American citizens who see cheap labor as a way to profit themselves. They in turn feed the problem by their abuses.

I'm not sure that America, Quakers, local meetings, etc... will ever be at a place where we can come to a complete agreement on major policy issues. I do believe however, that we can come to an agreement that we can and should do what we can to help these individuals (those who want help).

John Woolman gives us a wonderful example of what might be! His mission to end slavery and recognize African Americans as human beings of equal rights came about not by grand demonstrations or assaults on political powers, but in his simple everday encounters. It may seem that such an approach will not be "enough", but what I think we tend to forget is that often God works from the bottom up, not the top down. In fact Jesus' whole life an ministry was that of an "Upside down kingdom", not the logical what we would expect way of accomplishing change.

Hopefully individual Christians/Quakers will take head to God's calling on their individual hearts and begin to become active in ministring to the needs of this group of people and in turn a movement may begin to grow that will reach the highest levels of government an bring forth positive change. That of course is the best case scenerio, but even if that is not to happen, we must not ignore our individual conscious and call from God to do what we can.