Today around 1,000 people packed the gymnasium of Saint Philip Neri Catholic Church* in Indianapolis to show their support to immigrant and refugee families. This gathering was planned by IndyCAN, an interfaith organization bringing people of faith together to make a positive difference in our community. Our mayor of the City of Indianapolis, Joe Hogsett, came and spoke. We also heard the voices of people who are affected by our current immigration system.
One mother shared that her husband was detained by ICE officers recently. He is simply being detained with no end in sight. He has no trial date, no answers and little to no hope. The family of another man being deported tries to him in the deportation center often, even though they are not sure what’s going to happen. Their little girl recently had a birthday and told her mom that all she wanted was to see her dad again. There are countless stories like this one. Stories of fear, hopelessness and doubt.
Many people ask me, why do you care? You’re white. You’re not directly affected. You have a steady job. You have your proper documents. Why get involved? My only answer is because I feel like my faith is pushing me to stand with those on the margins. In our nation, too many immigrant families feel like they are barely holding onto the margins. I have met too many families who are living in fear in my own backyard to not act. I have heard their stories. I felt just a small fraction of their pain and fear, even though I will never face the same circumstances. As a person of faith, I must stand with those who hurt. I don’t know any other way to be a person who claims faith.
Many people say, “Why don’t they just get in line?” There really isn’t a line for immigrants to get into today, especially coming from places like Guatemala and Mexico. Around 40% of immigrants came here legally, they just stayed after their papers expired or couldn’t get the government to work fast enough to keep them in the country. By then many had jobs, families, a place in their community and places of worship. Then, to get in the line, you have to leave the country for a set period of time, many years in some cases, just to begin the process all over again.
On many levels, this issue has been a failure of uncompromising politics. It’s been around for decades with no movement in public policy. In the meantime, families continue to live, grow and work in this nation. I believe that many immigrant families would say ‘show me the line’, but there’s no line to get into. It’s hard to imagine what brought them here in the first place. Stories are so important. When we take the time to listen to the background of immigrant families, we begin to realize that their intention was not of ill intent, rather it was to find a better life and a means to feed their families.
Now we continue to see families being broken apart. Here I thought the church stood for family values? There are congregations who are losing their lay leaders. Undocumented immigrants make up around 5% of the workforce. They already contribute to our nation in many ways. There are too many arguments in favor of immigrant reform except for those who want to continue to punt the political football of immigration down the field using it to get re-elected every election cycle.
Why am I supporting all immigrant families? As a Christian pastor, it’s not my dream to cause controversy or make anyone angry in my pews. It’s not my hope to have the blessing of the government either. It is my hope to glorify my God who came in the poor child Jesus. It is my hope to follow that poor child’s teachings to “welcome the stranger” (Matt 25: 35). It is my desire to follow the teachings of the Scriptures I claim for my life to “love the stranger or foreigner or alien or immigrant” (Deut 10: 18-19). I’m doing this because I feel like it’s the right thing, the moral thing, the ethical thing to do.
It is my desire to help everyone find faith, hope and love regardless of what papers they hold. I’m not sure what the easy answer is to the challenges of immigration today. I really don’t think there is one. For now, I will continue to show love to and pray for immigrant families, our elected officials and for all of us as we discern how to respond to the current realities that many people are facing today. May we also pray and work for those who are looking for the line and not sure where to find it in this nation or other nations around the world.
*I originally stated the wrong church location for this event. The event was held at St Philip Neri Catholic Church in Indianapolis.