Why I Stand with Immigrants, and You Should Too
By Pastor Rick Russell
Madras Free Methodist Church
Last week, I travelled to Washington, D.C., so I could meet with our elected representatives and advocate for immigrants. President Trump set an expiration date of six months for the DACA program, which means several people I pastor may be deported soon. I unequivocally stand with them and speak against the expansion of government deportation plans.
Why? Because the Bible clearly and redundantly tells me do so. It is in passages like Exodus 23:9 "Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners …"
I also made this trip because people like Luis are a part of my congregation.
Luis is a husband and father. He is a documented immigrant working in Madras. A few years ago Luis witnessed a crime. The sheriff's office asked him to come to their offices to make a witness statement, but when he arrived they detained him as a suspect. After several hours, they determined he was not a suspect and intended to let him go.
Then Immigration and Customs Enforcement called the sheriff because they wanted to interview Luis, too. ICE is feared because they have the power to deport immigrants, but also because stories circulate of their rough and inhumane practices. They operate with little oversight or transparency. ICE wanted to interview Luis, and they asked the sheriff's office to hold him until they could do so.
Luis waited in jail nine months for ICE agents to arrive -- nine months with no income for his family, no criminal charges against him, and no due process for his defense. When ICE eventually arrived, they took Luis to a detention center, and interviewed him over the course of two weeks. Then they released him back to his family, determining he was in the country legally and had not committed a crime.
This happened in our community. More of these incidents happen in communities around the country. People of faith and goodwill should be the first to bear witness to the treatment of immigrants. Then we should use the power we possess on behalf of those with less power.
That is why I went to Washington.
My trip was a whirlwind of advocacy. In less than 24 hours, I joined other clergy for a press conference where pastors washed the feet of four DACA students. It was picked up by NBC news (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/clergy-wash-young-immigrants-feet-ask-congress-do-jesus-did-n801051), the Huffington Post and several religious news outlets. We visited Speaker Paul Ryan's office, our two Oregon senators' offices and our local district representative's office.
I traveled with Wendi Ayala, a local DACA student, and copies of a photo of several families from our congregation. Everywhere I went I showed the picture and told stories about people like Luis.
I also talked about another family from our church, and their son, Raul. Raul is 16 years old and a DACA recipient. He told the U.S. government where he lives and the names and addresses of his family members so he could receive a two-year permit to remain in the U.S. When DACA was repealed last week, Raul's status was given an expiration date.
Raul has four siblings who were born in the U.S., and so they are U.S. citizens. But Raul's parents returned to Mexico for two months to see if they could find work to sustain their family. They could not, but while they were there Raul was born. His birth in Mexico means he does not have the protections of citizenship shared by his brothers and sisters. He has to worry about how to make a life if he is ever forced to leave them. He carries a burden of fear no 16-year-old should have to bear. I recently asked him how he was doing, and instantly tears formed in his eyes.
Christians especially should speak up on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Welcoming immigrants is simple obedience to scripture. The Bible does not speak in abstract theory or principles, but in concrete terms -- stories of immigrants, commands on how to treat immigrants, and what God thinks about immigrants.
The Hebrew word "ger" — which most Bible translations render as "foreigner," "alien," "sojourner," or "immigrant" — appears 92 times in the Old Testament. By the count of theologian Orlando Espin, "Welcoming the stranger is the most often repeated commandment in the Hebrew Scriptures, with the exception of the imperative to worship only one God."
It is not just the Old Testament. Christians should remember the generations that came before us. We began as a migrant movement. When fear of Christians aroused hostility, most Christians fled and migrated into foreign lands where many of them were regarded as "illegal."
I let my elected representatives know that I care deeply for people like Luis and Raul. I hope they will have the courage to stand for people with very little power. I will do the same, because the story of immigration is my story, too.