So much of the conversation about immigration during this election season has not been based on facts or on the biblical value of philoxenia (love of the stranger, see Romans 12:13 or Hebrews 13:2). There has been much talk about immigrants—and not enough listening to immigrants themselves. The Blessing Not Burden campaign is part of changing that.
Our immigration coordinator, Kelsey Herbert, met with Sarahi recently to hear from her: what would you change about our immigration conversation in the USA? This post is the first of 4 this month—sign up here to make sure you don't miss a post!
1. Tell us a little about your family's immigration story.
My parents and I moved from Mexico to the United States back in 2000 when I was ten years old. My father owned a business in Mexico City, but for its last few years the business was on a decline. I was an only child at this point. The prospect of paying school tuition for me in the years to come became more and more unattainable for my family. In Mexico, elementary school is free but beyond that families must pay out of their own pocket. In our city, the cost of living was increasing faster than we could keep up with but my parents could not imagine me having to quit school at such a young age. After talking to family that we already had living in the United States, my parents were convinced that the best choice for our family was to move there and seek new opportunities for work and education. One day they began to sell everything we owned in our home and then we moved to Washington state where we’ve lived ever since.
2. What kinds of messages are you hearing right now about immigrants? What are you hearing from the church?
The town where I live is majority Hispanic so to be honest I do not directly hear a lot of negativity toward immigrants. People in our community are mostly supportive because so many of us would benefit from immigration reform, from immigrant working families to native-born employers. Our city also has a very strong immigrant history. However, from a distance I hear a very different conversation. I hear people in power perpetuating negative myths about immigrants. We are hearing messages like “they should not be here”, “they all just want welfare”, “they just come here to take, they are gang-members, and not hard workers”.
The church mostly avoids the conversation about immigration. It is seen as too controversial and divisive. Even business owners within the church struggle to engage this topic in a meaningful way in the context of the church. They see immigrants as hard workers and integral to the community, but do not go into depth about the issue locally or nationally. I honestly do not see the church doing much, in general. It’s a topic that gets so heated that it can be easier to avoid. But it's a challenge because the Bible is full of stories of immigration and guidance on how to treat immigrants. I just personally do not see the church going that deep.
3. How does the immigration conversation need to change?
We must recognize that unless you are indigenous to this land, we are all immigrants first and foremost. We each have a unique background and we must create a common memory around this history. We are an extremely diverse country. We have never been and will never be country of just one race. I recognize that this issue is complex and there are things that must be worked on, but we are stereotyping too much and it’s dividing us. Too often people hear that you are Mexican and they think you are nothing. The community feels this. I do not think we empower ourselves enough and recognize that we are special. We have a beautiful culture, and we bring so much to this country. We must learn who we are, then share our culture with others, and receive their culture. If we do this, we will be able to work together. We are different, we come from different places, but we are here now and we should be asking how we be create a stronger community because of our diversity, not in spite of our differences. Our diversity is our strength. And for Christians, we should be clear about what the Bible says about immigration and let that inform our attitudes and beliefs. Jesus himself was a migrant—that itself is a place to start a conversation.
And for Christians, we should be clear about what the Bible says about immigration and let that inform our attitudes and beliefs. Jesus himself was a migrant—that itself is a place to start a conversation.
4. What would be different if people understood what you just said?
If people viewed diversity as a strength and our biggest asset, rather than fearing it, I think the immigration conversation would be very different. So much of that fear comes from feeling as though American values are being threatened. But diversity is an American value—this value is strengthening and that is something that should be celebrated, rather than feared.
Check back next Friday to hear from Berniz Constanza Terpstra. Don't forget to sign up to receive these posts in your inbox!