Peace on the Hill – When Christians Detain

Faith leaders and immigrants pray and sing before being arrested in front of the White House on February 17.  Credit: Agnes Chen/MCC

Faith leaders and immigrants pray and sing before being arrested in front of the White House on February 17. Credit: Agnes Chen/MCC

On February 17, President’s Day, 32 faith leaders and immigrants participated in a prayerful and peaceful protest in front of the White House. They were calling on President Obama to halt the deportations that have separated moms and dads from their children, and from each other. Nearly two million immigrants have been deported from the U.S. since Obama took office in 2009.

A recent Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) story, “When Christians get detained,” illustrates well the plight of four immigrants caught up in what is an increasingly militarized and punitive immigration enforcement system. As we reflect on the suffering of Christians who are detained, we should also consider the Christians responsible for those detentions. Responsibility lies not only with those who write unjust laws and those who carry them out. As members of a democratic society we all bear some responsibility.

When an undocumented immigrant spoke with me recently about the immigration proposals being debated in the U.S. Congress, he said he would gladly take something short of full citizenship if it meant he did not have to fear being deported away from his two young daughters. But, he said, we should want him to be a citizen – because then he would share in the responsibilities as well as the benefits.

How much do each of us take ownership for the policies our country executes? Our votes elect those who write the laws. Our inaction allows injustice to continue. The families separated by two million deportations do not live in a far-away place where we can blame their suffering on someone else. They live in our communities. They are our neighbors.

Scripture is quite clear about how we should treat the migrant among us. Leviticus 19:33-34 says that “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Furthermore, Matthew 25 emphasizes that how we treat (or mistreat) a migrant is how we treat Jesus himself.

Herminia Gallego Lopez from Phoenix cried during the White House protest as she talked about her 20-year-old daughter who has been in detention for five months. Pilar Molina, whose husband was taken and detained as he left the grocery store they own in Norristown, Pennsylvania, said, “I have two young daughters that ask me every night when is daddy coming home.” For Lopez, Molina, and millions of others, we are falling far short of God’s vision.

Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) reflected on her reasons for being arrested in front of the White House: “God’s voice weighs in through Moses […] The immigrant was not to be feared or degraded, but was to be given the same rights as all born in Israel. And furthermore, to treat an immigrant with that level of dignity will impact our own spirit, improve our relationship with God—and even help us remember who we are and who God has been to us throughout history.”

How we treat migrants affects our spirit. As such, we must keep praying for our congressional leaders and President Obama that they will see the suffering and understand the terrible tragedy they are presiding over.

And, as citizens of this country, and of God’s kingdom, we must follow those prayers with action—a letter or phone call to a policymaker, or the bold act of peaceful protest against injustice.

by Tammy Alexander, MCC Washington OfficeTammy A

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

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