Immigration, especially illegal immigration, is a hot topic in the United States and has been for many years. I have no intention to cover all of the politics of immigration and its effects on the U.S. I will simply state that I believe all people should follow the law of the land; if that law specifies that those visiting, or living in, the US need to be documented, then I believe a person should abide by that.
However, there is an issue that goes much deeper than immigration, whether people are here legally or illegally. I think it is easier to choose sides in politics rather than to ask ourselves, “Who is my neighbor?” Or, “How should I treat the foreigner living in my country?”
It is impossible to know when looking into the face of a person whether they are legal or illegal. Is it for me to find out? Is it for me to judge? I do know that those who look “unAmerican” face a scrutiny beyond anything I, being with freckles and lighter hair color, will ever know.
This topic has been on the forefront of my mind since becoming a volunteer for Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville. My family has assisted refugees who are resettling in the United States after fleeing their home country in the midst of intense persecution. These refugees are arriving from all over the world: Cuba, Iraq, Burundi, Burma, to name a few. Whether it is accompanying refugees to get their Social Security cards, transporting to doctor appointments, or grocery shopping for new arrivals, I find satisfaction in knowing that I am helping someone- someone who has lived through more tragedy and fear than I have ever known.
These new arrivals come to the US with fresh hopes and dreams for the future. In the land of opportunity, they imagine security and peace for their families, education for their children. And they do receive many of those things. Oftentimes, it is not as easy as they hope, especially if they are moving to an area that is not very welcoming to someone who is viewed as a stranger.
Having moved from California to Tennessee in 2005, I experienced a little bit of culture shock. Besides the occasional, “You’re not from around here, are you?”, I mostly felt welcomed. I was similar enough to be accepted. Bringing 7 Iraqi refugees to get their Social Security card a few months ago, I felt a different type of glare upon entering the building than if I were entering alone. When we were called over to the service window, there were’t enough seats for all of the refugees to sit, so some of us stood. The next thing I knew, someone walked by, stopped directly between us and said with a sarcastic tone, “What do we have here? A family reunion?” Only one of the Iraqis understood English and I was hoping that he did not understand the tone of her voice, yet deep down, I knew that a person doesn’t have to understand English to understand the general feeling of being unwelcome.
I have been asked by fellow Christians, upon hearing that I am assisting refugees, especially when they hear that I am assisting someone from the Middle East, “Why are you helping Muslims?” Yes, I can understand why Americans are hesitant to open their doors to Muslims. Terrorism is a real and scary threat, but being from the Middle East does not automatically qualify a person as a terrorist- or even a Muslim. Just because I am Christian does not mean that I need to shun someone of a different religion. Frankly, shouldn’t I, as a Christian, be even more open to welcoming a person of a different religion to my country? I guess that would depend on whether a person is open to sharing their Christian faith with others or not.
Refugees are here in the US legally. They went through all of the proper paperwork and sometimes wait years in a refugee camp before being accepted into the US. They do not get to choose where they will live and sometimes do not even find out until a few days before arriving in the US which state they are being moved to. Once they are here, they need to learn the language and find a job as soon as possible to support their family.
What about the people who we know are here illegally? If you really truly know that a person is here illegally, why not try to get to know them a little better, find out what you can do to help them get all of their documents/paperwork in order for them to be legal? I know that there are a lot of complicated situations and obviously we can’t help everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Moving to a country that has a high population of people who claim to be Christian, one would think that we have this hospitality thing down-pat, but we can always work on being even more hospitable. So, the question is: How should we treat a foreigner? Thankfully, we don’t have to dig deep to find Bible verses that tell us exactly how:
Exodus 22:21- You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him.
Lev. 19:33, 34- When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself…”
Lev. 25:35- Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or sojourner, that he may live with you.
Matt. 25:35- “I was a stranger and you invited Me in”.
I mentioned to my 14-year-old daughter, Kaylie, that I was working on this article about immigrants and asked if she had anything to say about this topic. She has gone grocery shopping with me for a Burmese family and an Iraqi family and then to their apartments to stock the kitchen. Here’s her words: “Treat them the same as you would an American. They only want a better life for their family. That is why they came here. Realize that they’ve been through a lot. If they come to the US and find that there are only people here who treat them badly, they’re going to think that their life is one big oppression after another. Let’s do right by them”.