by Tammy Alexander
As we enjoy time with family and friends over the holidays, we should take a moment to think about those who are separated from their loved ones. Many hearts will be heavy as holiday decorations come down and calendars are changed out, marking another year spent hundreds or thousands of miles away from a family member who was deported – a mother or father, son or daughter, wife or husband.
Over the past ten years, the number of immigrants deported from the U.S. has more than doubled, reaching almost 400,000 in fiscal year 2011. According to estimates, nearly a quarter of those deported were parents of U.S. citizen children.
Some will say undocumented immigrants are ‘lawbreakers’ and should be arrested, detained and deported. But in many ways they are victimized. First by poverty or violence in their home country, then often by human traffickers or drug traffickers as they attempt to make their way to the U.S. Some are exploited by unscrupulous employers because of their undocumented status. And last, they are caught in a broken and unmerciful immigration system that cares nothing for what they have contributed to our society or for the families they leave behind.
And, undocumented immigrants do contribute to our society in many ways. Some work long hours harvesting the food that we feast on at holiday dinners. Others watch our children while we go to work, clean our offices while we sleep, and work at the hotels where we vacation with our own families. But, rather than showing them gratitude, rather than recognizing the gifts they bring, we cast them off.
We say, ‘you are not one of us’. No matter if you’ve lived here five years, ten years, or twenty. No matter if you’ve raised children, worked hard, paid taxes, gone to church every Sunday. No matter. You are not welcome. And so immigration agents knock down doors in the middle of the night and tear mothers from babies.
It may be happening close to your home or far from it, but it is happening, and in epidemic proportions. Thousands upon thousands of children are struggling to get through the day without mom or dad. At least 5,000 of these children are currently in foster care, after parents were detained or deported.
There is a better way. God has shown us a better way. Rather than looking at immigrants as our enemies, as people we must compete with for jobs and resources, we can stop and recognize that everything belongs to God. And, like God’s love, this world is meant to be shared by all people. Instead of responding with hatred and fear, by building walls and tearing families apart, we can repent of our selfishness and our apathy and extend arms of welcome to our neighbors, to the sojourner in our midst, to the heartbroken child of God.
In the coming year, it is very likely that Congress will debate immigration reform legislation. Sign up for immigration action alerts to find out how you and your congregation can be part of the effort to craft new policies that protect families, create realistic avenues for legal immigration, and recognize the many gifts immigrants bring to our society.