Immigration, Winter 2018
“And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself “(Leviticus 19:33-34)
There is so much immigration news happening right now with programs ending and deadlines looming it’s enough to make your head spin. One can only hope that some of the issues will be mercifully resolved by the time you read this.
Mercy is an interesting word. It refers to benevolence, forgiveness, and kindness, often given by those in power. Mercy is a powerful concept not only in religion but also in civil affairs. Abraham Lincoln said, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” (“Mercy,” Wikipedia.com, Dec. 15, 2017).
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a program developed by the Obama administration in 2012. It protects approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children. DACA will end in March 2018. TPS (Temporary Protected Status) has been on the books since 1990. The program allows foreign nationals “temporary protected status” in the U.S. because conditions in their home country pose a danger to personal safety, such as armed conflict or an environmental disaster. TPS currently protects over 300,000 immigrants in the US. CAM (Central American Minors) is a program that began in 2014. It was specifically designed to help children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to travel legally to join family in the US, thus avoiding violence along he migrant trail north through Mexico. Of the 1,465 minors allowed to travel to the U.S. under CAM, many were likely spared death from gang warfare in their home countries. The program was ended in August 2017.
On Sunday, January 14, St. Bartholomew’s and St. Gabriel’s of Woodlawn sponsored a workshop hosted by St. Gabriel’s specifically directed to Dreamers. Most of the 60 people who attended were Latinx also included individuals without permanent US status from Liberia, Guyana, and Ivory Coast.
A young woman from El Salvador who is a Dreamer led off the discussions by relating her story of migration from Central America to Arizona, and on to Baltimore. As a young girl in her home country she had aspirations to be a pediatrician. As difficulties mounted and after watching television from the US she hoped to enter law enforcement. She eventually came north because of the violence in El Salvador. She now works as a Parent Educator for the Baltimore City Public Schools and volunteers with CASA Maryland to help fellow Dreamers.
Elizabeth Alex, of CASA Maryland then reminded us that while DACA is now the most pressing item at the federal level, TPS should not be forgotten. According to regulations, those protected by TPS are unable to seek permanent residency in the US. The Trump administration is ending TPS. The first to be targeted to lose their TPS are some 200,000 Salvadorans who have lived in the US since 2001 after earthquakes ravaged their country. They have until Sept. 9, 2019 to leave the United States or find a way to obtain a green card (an unlikely prospect because the process is cumbersome and lengthy).
Katie Miller of CASA then led an exercise where small groups shared their stories of immigration, either personal or historical family recollections. Everyone had an immigration story to tell because we are all immigrants. We then separated into 2 groups, The larger, predominantly Latinx group received instruction on their rights and personal safety during times of deportation roundups. Those of us without immigration problems discussed how we could help and committed to some form of action. We want to do our part to soften the misery these deportation policies are causing.
In his pastoral letter, “One Nation Under God” (February 24, 2017) Bishop Sutton reminds us of our baptismal covenant: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? To all of these we answer, “I will, with God’s help.” He then goes on and asks us as parishioners to “Be willing to listen, be willing to change your mind, be willing to repent.” It is only by really looking and listening and striving to change can hear the cry of the immigrant. In their pastoral letter from 2010, “Welcoming the Stranger,” Bishop Sutton and Bishop Suffragan Raab wrote, “Fear should not guide our public policies, but God’s dream of freedom and joy and mutual flourishing should. Only when we contribute to each other’s flourishing, both within and beyond national borders, do we honor the image of God.”
Our humane treatment of immigrants is an opportunity for redemption. It is an opportunity for mercy. It is an opportunity to stand in awe of those, brothers and sisters born in the image of God, who have given so much to make a better and safer life for themselves and their children. We must, as fellow children of God, find a way to welcome them.
Jack is a founding member of St. B’s SING (Support Immigrant Neighbors Group)