Remember the children separated from their parents at the border and held in detention? They were children whose families had escaped terrible violence in their home country to legally request asylum. This incident was the tip of the iceberg of an immigration system that is ineffective, illogical, and inhumane. The U.S. immigration system tears apart families, destroys the dreams of young people, and abandons refugees. It is a racialized system – while over half the people who are in the country without legal immigration documentation are people who have come here on visas and overstayed, the focus in immigration enforcement has been the southern border. Images used to promote further enforcement often show Black, indigenous, and brown-skinned impoverished populations.
Under the Trump administration, executive orders and regulatory changes made the system more restrictive and more vicious. While there is broad bipartisan consensus (over 70% in multiple polls) about the kind of immigration system that we would all prefer, change is not happening fast enough. Yet we have been unable as a country to even pass the Dream Act (which would provide legal options to immigrate for people who entered the country as children), and families continue to be separated both at the border and in the interior of the country through deportations.
The Church is not behind in having an opinion on policies that would grant legal status to many immigrant people. According to a LifeWay research in 2015, 68% of the evangelical church supported a pathway to citizenship for people present in the U.S. without legal status. The same poll revealed, however, that only 1 in 5 evangelical Christians says that they have ever been encouraged by their local church to reach out to immigrants in their community.
Our faith-rooted activism has shown us that one of the key obstacles in moving progressive immigration policies from support to reality is lack of passion. Non-immigrant (mostly white) evangelical churches lack the passion needed to advocate for and with immigrant communities. The average American person does not call their members of congress unless an issue is deeply personal. The topic of immigration has yet to become a matter of personal passion. But if we are attentive to Scripture we know the church is mandated to care passionately for people who are different and those who are suffering. This is a unique calling, and if the Church does not passionately and sacrificially care for all people, we are not living as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Christians have unique gifts to contribute both to the long-term solution and the support of suffering individuals and families. There are 92 scripture passages in the Bible calling us to hospitality, including Jesus’ own statement of intimate solidarity in Matthew 25:35 – in which he tells us that our reaction to an immigrant person is our reaction to him. In order to address our immigration crisis, we need to be equipped for an effective, multi-layered, and faith-rooted response. The church carries a unique hope for the solution to this national crisis.
Through the Diplomado Respuesta de la Iglesia a la Crisis Migratoria (Professional Certificate in the Church’s Response to the Immigration Crisis), I have witnessed the transformation and empowerment of faith leaders, going from indifference and fear to commitment and courage. They are getting a deeper understanding of the historical and theological roots of the problem and building significant connections with the undocumented immigrants’ experiences in the US. Participants have led their churches to get meaningfully involved in the immigrant rights movement. They are creating more holistic responses by moving their congregations to action.
Collaboratively created and led by Matthew 25/Mateo 25, Sojourners, and the Centro Latino of Fuller Theological Seminary, the Diplomado is available to anyone who wants to be equipped to move their congregations to respond passionately and effectively to the needs of immigrants and refugees. We are confident that through our materials we’re co-creating the possibility of an alternative ecclesial response to the immigration crisis – one that comprises biblical and theological basis, trauma and resilience awareness, pastoral- and legal- strategies, and advocacy strategies.
This professional certificate program is unlike any other as it prepares church leaders and congregations to engage the immigration crisis from a faith-rooted commitment. Churches receive the tools they need to provide a holistic response by getting involved in direct services as well as advocacy for systemic change.
To learn more about The Church’s response to the immigration crisis program, go to www.immigrationcrisis.org