Americans May Seem Divided, but Immigration Reforms Can Bring Us Together

It’s Not About Politics. It’s About People.

Speaking as a pastor, my congregations usually dislike it if I “preach politics.” Our people get more than enough politics sent their way by TV, radio, online sources, and family members. And of course, as a pastor and an American, I believe in honoring the separation of church and state. I would never presume to tell my congregations who I think they should vote for or what party they should support.

But there are some things that, regardless of political party affiliation, have a clear right and wrong. Murder, for example, is clearly wrong no matter what party one belongs to – as is theft, or lying under oath, or any number of other things that our nation’s laws declare illegal.

Some of these laws have their roots in ancient moral and religious codes – documents that reflect timeless truths. These ancient codes tell us not only what is wrong to do, but also what is right to do: things like practicing hospitality, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, or feeding the hungry. Our nation’s laws reflect these beliefs also, but we would generally not think of it as a political thing to care for people in need. These are humanitarian efforts even though the government may support them or help finance them.

In the congregations I serve, while people generally don’t want to hear about politics, they very much do want to know how they can help people in need. I write today because at this point in time, recent government actions – and/or inactions – are interfering with America’s ability to care for people in need.

I’m speaking of the thousands of people from South and Central America, and other trouble spots around the world, who are coming to the United States looking for help and a new life. We may call them refugees (people seeking safety); we may call them immigrants (people moving from one place to another); we may call them asylum-seekers (people who will likely be killed if they don’t leave their home country). 

The truth is, for every single American (unless we’re of Native American ancestry) at some point one of our relatives came here the same way for the same reasons. I know my own ancestors came to America because, back in the 1800s, our family’s farm wasn’t big enough to divide up between all the children. Some of the kids had to find a new place and make a new start. Today other people find themselves in similar troubles: living in the midst of civil wars, systemic violence, or extreme poverty, forcing them to leave home if they want to stay alive. They are us

It’s not easy for the members of our congregations to sift through everything that’s on the news and figure out what’s true, and what’s just opinion, and what’s outright manipulation. I myself can’t always tell, to be honest… so how am I supposed to help guide our people?

What clarity can I give them that we’re not getting?

With these questions in mind, this past spring I signed up for an “immersion experience” at the border. Specifically, I joined a group of women from the Facebook group Women of Welcome and spent a few days in the El Paso, TX/Juarez, Mexico metropolitan area – a place that has been in the news a lot recently and portrayed as a ‘trouble spot’.  

Clarity Point #1

El Paso has actually been in the Top 10 Safest Cities in America for at least a decade. And while Juarez has had some issues in the past, the citizens there have had enough of the cartels and are rightfully insisting on better. The results of their efforts are that many American companies are now opening facilities in Juarez, including companies that want to make Juarez a ‘destination’ vacation location! 

Clarity Point #2

There is no cross-border hatred or violence here. We drove freely across the border into Mexico and walked freely back into the USA. We saw long lines of cars – because many people in the area have relatives on the other side of the river, or go to school across the river, or work across the river, so there’s a lot of traffic back and forth – but no long lines of people

While we were here we visited shelters for immigrants on both sides of the border. In both cases the shelters were run by the Roman Catholic Church. One was a shelter for women and children who had applied for entry into the USA and were waiting in Mexico to hear; the other was an overnight shelter in Texas for people who were about to have their appointments with US authorities and needed a very short-term place to stay. In both locations the people were provided with food, clothing, bedding, and more as needed – not fancy, but certainly a vast improvement over the dangers of hiking through jungles or riding on the tops of trains. In both places, smiles and encouraging words were shared by those in our group who spoke Spanish.

Clarity Point #3

The media outlets – not here, but south of our border – have been telling these folks that Americans hate them and will abuse them. This hurts my heart for so many reasons. I know newly-arrived immigrants historically have had a tough time – from the Irish who came over from the potato famine, to the Italians arriving in NYC (see the movie Cabrini). But I also know how very kind and generous my countrymen and women can be. People who hold fund-raisers when a friend’s child is in the hospital. People who bring meals to the elderly neighbor who just had her knee replaced. People who teach their children to do their part in the local food bank drive. If we saw someone newly-arrived here, legal papers in hand and not much else, would we step up to help? 

Some of our group, as we flew out of El Paso, ran into this very situation: we found ourselves sharing our boarding areas with newly-arrived immigrants. We introduced ourselves, and helped them read the signs and locate their flights. And some of the people from my churches back home, when they heard that waiting for an asylum hearing can mean months of living in a ‘holding area’ (a jail by any other name), volunteered to be pen-pals with the people waiting – to encourage them and pray with them.

Clarity Point #4

We met with Border Patrol agents. Their job is tremendously difficult, because while they are hired and trained to be law enforcement officers, they are being called upon to be social workers as well – with neither the resources or the training. They are deeply moved by the human needs they see, especially the children. They encourage refugees to seek them out – because they are the first legal step in applying for asylum for those who seek it. And they are chronically under-staffed. 

As are the courts that hear asylum cases. In these courts we run up against one more major issue: minor children in court without lawyers. (Americans in court are always guaranteed the right to an attorney – but these kids aren’t Americans yet.) How on earth are they supposed to understand what’s being asked of them, let alone understand how best to give an answer? I am thankful for organizations like KIND (Kids In Need of Defense) who supply attorneys pro bono for underage children in court.

Examples like this demonstrate the compassion of Americans for people in need. They also demonstrate how unhelpful it is that people of good will have to work so hard to be buffers for an outdated, ineffective immigration system. Our elected officials in Washington can’t seem to pass a single bill that would in any way improve this situation. There’s lots of posturing and politicking; there’s even a bill out there that says “we should just close the doors for three years while we talk about it” – as if they haven’t already been talking far longer than three years and have made no progress! As the saying goes, lots of heat and no light. 

This does not serve immigrants well, it does not serve our citizens well, and it does not serve our country well.

Why should we care? Why should everyday people get behind this issue?

  • Because we’ve made terrible mistakes in the past. During WWII, the ship St. Louis arrived from Europe carrying Jews who were fleeing the Nazis. To our shame they were turned away, and most died. This must never happen again.
  • Because we need to step up and do our part. The refugee crisis today is not just at our border – it’s worldwide. There are currently an estimated 130 million refugees in the world today. Just a tiny fraction of these are arriving at our borders. The nation of Germany – roughly half the size of Texas – has taken in over a million refugees per year for many years. If Germany can do that, we can certainly do more than we are.
  • Because the holy writings of our major religions tell us:
    • From the Torah: “Don’t mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself. Remember, you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19.33-34)
    • From the New Testament: (Jesus said): “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36)
    • From the Qur’an: “Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess.” (al-Nisaa 4:36)
  • Because our country needs them. We need the DACA recipients who have already been a gift to our nation. We need our Afghan Allies who gave up so much to help us, and are waiting for our promises to be fulfilled. And as we struggle with inflation, one of the root causes is a shortage of entry-level workers in farming, industry, hospitality, and food service – jobs the people waiting at our borders would love to help us out with.

Our faiths teach us that people should work together for the good of society, as well as for the good of individuals. I am calling on all of us, people of goodwill, to hear the cries, hear the needs, and consider it an honor and a privilege to help. And I am calling on our elected officials to do what is right for people who cannot speak for themselves, who are looking to America for help. Don’t forget the privilege that is already ours as Americans. We have more than enough to share. Help us to be the best that we can be. Help us to be people of welcome.


We’re grateful to long-time Women of Welcome community member Peg Bowman for sharing this Op-ed with us. We echo her call to do what we can, and we’re making it easy.

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