I was a stranger and you welcomed me—Jesus
Jesus was a migrant. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with their infant son to escape political persecution. Similar stories happen today. Families with boys named Jesús flee poverty, war, and persecution to find sanctuary across national borders. What does our faith say about this?
Politics is divisive, particularly at the intersection of racism and immigration. We acknowledged that many people harbor a common fear: How are immigrants going to change us, our culture and society? One participant remarked, “Immigration policy can be racism at its boldest.” Perhaps because of widespread divisiveness and fear, we came with a shared desire to hear real stories.
In the third of a series of workshops on the theme “Becoming an Antiracist Community,” the Orders of Deacons of the Peninsula-Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conferences discussed “The Racial Politics of Immigration: Dreamer Story Sharing,” February 20, 2021.
Discussion leader, the Rev. Carlos S. Reyes Rodríguez, is the Racial Equity & Community Engagement Manager for National Justice for Our Neighbors.
Our workshop proceeded from head to heart to action. We sought to learn from the bible, Social Principles, resolutions of The United Methodist Church, and US law and policies. We heard from a “dreamer”—a young woman born abroad, seeking refuge in the United States. And we were challenged to put our faith into action.
The US is a country of immigrants. Today, over 44 million people in the United States were born beyond US borders. The Rev. Carlos S. Reyes Rodríguez shared this statistic and other information about US and worldwide immigration as he invited us to consider the politics of immigration in light of our faith. (Powerpoint Slides)
The Dream Act was a particular focus of conversation. According to the National Immigration Law Center, “On June 15, 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would not deport certain undocumented youth who came to the United States as children. Under a directive from the DHS secretary, these youth may be granted a type of temporary permission to stay in the U.S. called ‘deferred action.’ The Obama administration called this program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.” This program has been in flux during the past four years under two different administrations.
We also studied what the church says about immigration. The UMC supports the DREAM Act. The UMC also speaks to “Welcoming the Migrant to the US” in its Book of Resolutions.
The political became personal when we heard from B, a student at Delaware State University. DSU is one of only five public schools in the US that has scholarships for undocumented immigrants to attend. B shared about growing up in the US as an immigrant. Her parents brought her to the US when she was three years old. She did not learn she was undocumented until she was ten or eleven, after being chosen for the youth olympic soccer team. It was then that her parents told her that her olympic dream was impossible.
B also told us about growing up with nightmares about the border crossing. She experienced hostility in school as early as first grade, encountering racism from teachers. Teachers told her not to speak Spanish in school; when she spoke to a classmate who could not speak English, she was sent to the principal’s office and subsequently expelled.
B shared many other experiences of life in the US for an immigrant, stories better heard directly from her and others. She is preparing to graduate from college this year and hopes to go to law school.
Carlos asked, How has faith and community played a role in her life? B answered,
“My parents are very religious. This has helped me because I feel God has been with me every step of the way.”—B, an undocumented immigrant, a DREAMer
Information and statistics informed our heads; B informed our hearts and moved us to action. B’s personal story moved us in ways that statistics of millions of dreamers could not. Her perseverance, courage, and witness prompted us to consider how we might put faith into action.
Each of us will bear witness to B’s reality in different ways. I invite you to listen to the story of a dreamer, to bear witness to the immigrants in your community, to welcome the stranger. How will you be motivated to put your faith into action?
If you feel called to a lifetime ministry of love, justice, and service, consider exploring the several avenues of diakonia available in The United Methodist Church: deaconess, home missioner, and deacon.
Previous events in this series: “The Role of Anger in the Work of Justice and Love,” November 2020; and “Who’s Afraid of Critical Race Theory?” January 26, 2021.
Suggested Readings and Resources
American Immigration Council, Fact Sheet
Deaconess Cindy Andrade Johnson
General Board of Church and Society
Immigrant Neighbors Among Us: Immigration across Theological Traditions, edited by M. Daniel Carroll R. and Leopoldo A. Sánchez M.
Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), Delaware-Valley, http://www.jfondv.org/
Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), National, https://njfon.org/
Letter from Justice for Our Neighbors, January 2021. https://mailchi.mp/b5f8849676f6/human-rights-and-covid-2271097
M. Daniel Carroll R. Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, & the Bible
Maruskin, Joan M. Immigration and the Bible: A Guide for Radical Welcome (also available in Spanish)
Migration Policy Institute. “Data and Analysis Related to Trump Administration Actions on Immigrant and Refugee Policy”
Migration Policy Institute. “Dismantling and Reconstructing the U.S. Immigration System: A Catalog of Changes under the Trump Presidency,” July 2020.
Rajendra, Trisha M. Migrants and Citizens: Justice and Responsibility in the Ethics of Immigration
UM Global series on immigration: http://www.umglobal.org/2021/02/are-immigrant-pastors-missionaries.html
UMC Social Principles para. 162.H. https://www.umcjustice.org/who-we-are/social-principles-and-resolutions/the-social-community-162/the-social-community-rights-of-immigrants-162-h
UMC Resolution #3164, DREAM Act. https://www.umcjustice.org/who-we-are/social-principles-and-resolutions/dream-act-3164
UMC Resolution #3281, Welcoming the Migrant to the US. https://www.umcjustice.org/who-we-are/social-principles-and-resolutions/welcoming-the-migrant-in-the-us-3281
The Unafraid https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IW7fli8wbA4
Trails of Hope and Terror https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=P5wCfQLRR4c
Kill the Messenger https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VW4XO-52ubE