For thirty years, I have worked with immigrants in the Hispanic community. I have listened to the stories of spouses, parents, and children who are living through the trauma of separation—and the challenges of reunification in a new land and assimilation in a new culture. And when I listen to the debates going on in the media, in the public arenas, around the "issues" of immigration, I think of the human beings affected by those issues and I remember their stories.
Most of the books that have been written about immigration are political or ideological. We have an overabundance of politics around the question of immigration. In this book, I'm trying to be pastoral and practical, not political. I'm trying to focus on the immigrants themselves—the people, the families, and especially the children who are most vulnerable.
If you could choose only one thing, what would you want the reader to take away from your book?
I would want them to take away the understanding of the human worth of all persons including immigrants.I also write about the idea of worthiness and its importance in the lives of most immigrants. To say that someone is “worthy” is to say that person has merit. A worthy person is someone who is valued enough to be deserving of basic human dignity. Immigrants understand themselves as persons of merit who should be treated equally alongside others. Most immigrants will do whatever is asked of them in order to fulfill the responsibilities that are part of being a person of excellent character, a person considered worthy by society. Yet this is an opportunity that many immigrants have not had in their countries of origin and have not found in the United States either. They are not given the chance to take on the responsibilities and reap the benefits of being a worthy citizen.I would like for us all to do whichever part we can to establish a sense of worthiness for immigrants.
What was the research process like? Where and how did you find the families featured in your book?
For thirty years, as pastor, professor in theological education, as friend, I have worked with immigrants in the Hispanic community and with those who work with immigrants in a variety of ethnic communities. I have listened to the stories of spouses, parents, and children who are living through the trauma of separation—and the challenges of reunification in a new land and assimilation in a new culture.As I led workshops about the issue, people kept asking me to put this information in a book.I decided to pull together the many stories I had gathered over these years and to place them in dialogue with the research in an accessible way for all to read.
Why do you think it is so valuable for us to hear the voices of Immigrant Children? What do we need to hear?
We need to get in touch with the humanity of the children.We need to get in touch with the streams of compassion in ourselves.We have objectified the immigrant and cast upon them blame- they have become the scapegoat for our dissatisfactions.I wish for us to see them as human beings and as the most vulnerable- “the least of these.”Once that happens, can we be attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit?What is the Spirit saying to us?
I really loved the conclusion of the book, where you touched on status and worthiness as humans. Why do you think it is difficult for so many Christian American's to internalize this idea of equality and human worth as God's children in regards to Immigrants among us?
Christians are also political beings and because as Christians we have become used to being the majority religion and many founding documents of the US have Christian values and language, we have assumed that this “civil” religion is the same as Christian values.On other occasions we have believed that we are to obey the officials of the land.We have forgotten to balance this with our prophetic call as the people of God that we are called to bring government into accountability with the values of the reign of Jesus as Lord.We have not done critical thinking.As citizens of the US as well as of the kingdom we need to submit all arenas to the lordship of Christ.We have submitted to government without asking if the law represents the kingdom values.
Matthew 25:31-46 defines sustenance as clothing, water, food, hospitality and even prisoners are to be visited.We are to provide these things to the “least of these.”The Old Testament had laws about treating the alien, the stranger in our midst as ourselves (Ex. 22:21; Deut 10:19; Lev. 19:34: Ps. 146:9).Israel was reminded that they too had been strangers- we have forgotten these passages- they haven’t spoken to us.Ultimately the kingdom belongs to the children.This has not been the biblical basis of our thinking and acting as Christians.
Getting on CIR does not mean that we simply accept a position of “let them all come.”It is a critical thinking position where we understand that this is a very complex issue and that we want to have intelligent dialogue about these matters- that we want to be at the table as Christians as we all discern these matters in as just a manner as possible- accepting that there are limitations to what we can do responsibly.Where is the voice of scripture and the spirituality that believes we are all created in God’s image- the imago-Dei?
What do you think need to be the key components of CIR and what do you see as the role of the Church in accomplishing it?
Key components need to include family unification, border security that targets drug traffickers, violent criminals and persons who pose a genuine threat to national security, work site enforcement, a point system for permanent residency and others.I think that a good place to go to look at these points discussed further is the website of a Christian institution named Esperanza at www.esperanza.us.There one will find much information about the issues of immigration from a Christian standpoint, particularly the section on “what we support.”
The role of the church I believe is to become informed and disseminate information by holding public forums to disseminate information and to have civil discussion that includes the theological/biblical grounding on these matters.
What is your hope for the Church in America in regards to how we treat Immigrants and how we engage this polarizing issue?
My hope is that we would enter the dialogue with the kingdom values in mind; that we would be discerning and an example of civility.We should be a place for the humanitarian treatment of immigrants. We should take the lead in defusing hate language and conversation that vilifies immigrants.