By Mayuris Pimentel
I am the first-born daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. My parent’s story of migration is one of hard work, dreams deferred, and hope for a better life for their children. This is the same story of most of the men, women, and children, coming to the United States today. Many people come to the United States fleeing violence, hunger, homelessness, and lack of opportunity to earn a living. They come to the United States for a way to share in the abundant life promised to us by God through Jesus in John 10.
Over the past few years I have seen immigration become one of the most divisive issues facing our nation and our church. The debate, as I hear it, centers around whether or not someone broke the law, whether or not someone should wait their turn, and whether or not people are contributing to our economy. And that debate, as I hear it, is centered completely around the things that we as humans have legislated and the things we believe we and our families deserve and have a right to as persons with the privilege of having been born within the borders of the United States. As I hear it, it is not a debate centered around the question of what would God have us do for and with the strangers that are coming to our churches.
The creation story is the foundational story that guides the way I think about the issue of immigration and what I believe we as Christians are called to do. In Genesis we read – “Then God said let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. So God created humankind in God’s image, male and female, God created them.” Immediately after the creation of humankind we read God’s commandment to humankind to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. From the passage in Genesis 1, I learn first that we have all been created in God’s image and second that the whole earth was given to humankind to enjoy and we are all responsible for taking care of it and each other. To me this means that all of God’s creation is special and unique and deserves to be treated with love, respect, and dignity.
Because of our fallen nature, we humans have created borders and nation states that have served to divide us and have given us a false sense of control over each other. Certainly borders serve to give us a sense of national identity; however, our ultimate allegiance is not to the powers and principalities of this world but to the powers and principalities of the One who created this world – our ultimate allegiance is to the lordship of God. God is the one who is in control. As people of faith we are called to care for each other, to facilitate for each other the enjoyment of the whole earth God has created. Jesus took this call one step further by telling us that we need to give special care to those who are living in our midst and are marginalized.
As we have veered further and further away from this truth we have allowed ourselves to become divided and inhospitable to anyone who does not look like us, speak like us, think like us, or was at least born within the same borders as we were. This kind of thinking also points to an amnesia within the history of the families of most of us here. There are very few of us here today who can trace our ancestry to people who were natives in this land. When we go back far enough in our family tree we find that were it not for the immigration of someone in our family’s history at some point we would not be here today. The hospitality of this country and its people at some point in our family’s history allows us the privilege we have today to enjoy everything that this country has to offer.
The fact that the debate about immigration has become louder in the past few years leads me to believe that almost everyone agrees that our immigration laws need some sort of reform. And while we may not all agree on the how of immigration reform, I think that as Christians we should all be able to agree on the why of immigration reform. We are called to care for the newcomers in our midst, persons in need; regardless of how and why they came here. It is easier to talk about immigration as public policy and to generalize the people we think about when talking about immigration. Sometimes, when we begin to talk about immigration as the story of my parents or your neighbor, it becomes uncomfortable. It is in that discomfort that we need to seek to have God’s eyes and hearts to guide us in what we should do and how we should respond to the newcomers in our midst.
Mayuris Pimentel is a lawyer living in Silver Spring, Md. She is a member of The United Methodist Church.