(Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing)
As a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, I am proud that my church is among the evangelical denominations taking the lead to engage on immigration and care for immigrants with compassion and justice - and to encourage long overdue immigration reform.
As an immigrant myself, I am encouraged when I read articles like Marlen Garcia's Sept. 13 piece, "Latinos creating jobs at a rapid pace," in which she addresses how much buying power and entrepreneurial spirit immigrants contribute to our economy, creating jobs and fueling economic growth.
Garcia's article resonates with me on a personal level because as a child, I saw how hard my parents worked. Like many immigrants, my parents did not want to leave their home country, Egypt. They were both successful doctors, active in their churches, and surrounded by family and friends. For them, it was persecution that pushed them out; for others, it's extreme poverty, or war, or government suppression.
I have seen how our current immigration laws are both out of date and erratically enforced, relegating millions to a shadow economy that exploits their cheap labor while separating families through deportations and decades-long reunification backlogs.
We all rightly desire a secure and orderly border that fosters respect for the rule of law. But replacing our broken immigration system is much more complicated than simply securing the border.
For example, the United States' enforcement of current immigration laws is inconsistent, in part because legislators know that deporting 11 million people would be a double hit to the already precarious U.S. economy - the action itself would cost billions, and the result would be billions more in lost revenue. The government's inconsistent enforcement of the law, coupled with the narrow pathways to legal immigration, erode respect for the rule of law.
As Christians with strong family values, we inherently understand the importance of keeping families together. We know we are called to care for the stranger among us. The Bible speaks clearly and repeatedly to God's concern for the immigrant, guiding us toward principles that should inform the public policies we support, as well as how we interact with our immigrant neighbors.
When we listen to scripture, we hear an unbroken song of God's compassion to the vulnerable; we see a mighty river of justice flowing to the oppressed. It is written that "the foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34). This command reflects God's character as the one who "loves the foreigner among you, giving them food and clothing" (Deuteronomy 10:18).
Jesus' ministry was marked by care for the marginalized, often crossing borders and stretching boundaries. And while early Christians were encouraged to "be subject to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1), they also knew that legal structures are sometimes a source of injustice (Amos 5:12-15; Micah 7:2-3) and that God calls Christians to speak up for reform (Isaiah 10:1-4; Jeremiah 7:1-7). Immigrants too are called to "seek the welfare" of their newfound home as they seek jobs, pay taxes and contribute to their communities (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
As Christians, we recognize that we must treat all people - including immigrants - with love, respect and forgiveness. But we often struggle when we try to confront our broken immigration system. For many of us, the conversation starts and ends with the idea that undocumented immigrants have broken the law.
To encourage and foster conversation on this important and timely justice issue, the Evangelical Covenant Church - itself founded by Swedish immigrants and continually strengthened by new immigrant members - is engaging immigration on a deeper level than before.
We have posted our draft resolution on immigration, along with educational resources, on the denomination's website and encourage comments by our member churches so that we can prepare and pass a final resolution in 2014. And Covenant churches are hosting roundtable discussions and immigration forums, challenging the church to engage the issue of immigration from a distinctly Christian perspective that honors God and loves our neighbors.
May we as Christians be known today as people who, informed by faith and humbled by grace, seek justice for our immigrant neighbors by demanding that our representatives pass comprehensive immigration reform now.