The Immigration Dilemma. Part 3 of Welcoming the Stranger Series

Living in relationships with immigrants, refugees, and other low-income people has forced us to grapple with the question of what it means for us, as followers of Christ, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It has also awakened us to the ethically complex questions of immigration and refugee policy—who do we let in, what do we do with those who came in even though our government did not allow them in, and what effect will our policies have on those already here and struggling to get by? Of course, our attempts to address these questions have been shaped by our own personal journeys. — Soerens and Yang (2018), “The Immigration Dilemma” in Welcoming the Stranger, p. 9.

Chapter 1 Summary

Chapter 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book, serving the purpose of what a preface or chapter 1 in a more academic book might. It provides anecdotes or quotations from popular press that describe how immigrants—legal and undocumented—are viewed in our society. Chapter 1 provides a sense of some of the changes that have taken place in our cultural and political landscape since the publication of the original edition of Welcoming the Stranger. Chapter 1 also describes the complexity of the issue, the need to cross boundaries in conversation about this issue, and the need to learn directly about the things confronting immigrants through our personal relationships with immigrants in our churches and communities. Both Matthew (Soerens) and Jenny (Yang) share their personal experiences with immigrants in their own families and communities, and describe some of the things they wrestle with themselves on this issue.

Key Discussion Questions

In one of the appendices to the book, there is a study guide with discussion questions. In this post, and the next 9 that each deal with a chapter in the book, I will list selected key questions from the study guide that are bouncing around in my mind as I write my reflection.

  1. The chapter says, “It is these ‘easy’ issues that often prove to be the most complex and the hardest to resolve, since our presumptions keep us from hearing the other side.” What presumptions have you held regarding the issue of immigration?
  2. What is one question concerning immigration that you would like to see answered in your study of this issue?

Reflection

Since much of Chapter 1 is reflective, I will take some time to reflect and describe why I am hopeful about discussing this issue publicly with fellow believers and others. I think we need to talk about immigration to the United States. Not necessarily the way we’ve been talking about it: “Build the Wall!” vs “Abolish ICE!” But somehow, we need to find a way to talk about the substance and people involved in ways that people feel heard. We need to collectively become more aware of some of the policies our country has in place. Some of the policies our country is, and has been, considering. How migration can be a lifeline or a living hell—or both. How it presents a mirror to our society and our church reflecting the state of our souls. And what does all of this mean for the American church as it continues to undergo profound demographic shifts that, in some ways, are even more dramatic than the shifts in American culture at large?

I, like most Americans on most important issues, was and continue to be very poorly informed about immigration issues. One way in which we can be poorly informed is simply lacking knowledge about basic facts or existence of an issue. Reading books like Welcoming the Stranger is a good way to remedy this type of ignorance. However, modern life is so complex that we all live in profound ignorance of most things that enable our lives. In fact, immigration is so complex that it is probably impossible for any single individual to be a comprehensive expert. In this sense, I remain poorly informed. I am not a recent immigrant, I am not an immigration advocate or lawyer, and I do not work for a resettlement agency or immigrant support ministry. Nor am I a scholarly expert by any means, so in a practical sense—lacking the personal experience, time, and expertise required to navigate this complexity—I remain ignorant.

However, this topic has captured my imagination and I cannot stop thinking about it. There has not been just one seminal experience, but one thing that made me think more intently about how I could take action on this issue was hearing about the recent no tolerance policies of the US Department of Justice. Hearing of children being taken from their parents and listening to the diversity of responses publicized in the press convinced me that silence is no longer an option on this issue for myself or for the American Church. Like many Americans, I have immigrant ancestors and have also married into a family of immigrants. Moreover, I am friends and colleagues to many immigrants. This is a personal and not theoretical issue. And honestly and frankly, the changes to the way that our asylum and refugee laws are being interpreted angers me.

On most issues, I turn first to the Scripture and to the Church for initial guidance as I form my own opinions and convictions. Although—as we will clearly see in Soerens and Yang Chapters 5 and 6–the Scripture speaks plainly about how migrants should be treated, I was stuck when I tried to turn to the Church for answers about how to move forward as a citizen. My church certainly doesn’t preach on this topic. Nor did they preach about the family separations in real-time. My favorite evangelical blogs certainly didn’t touch this topic or the family separations in real-time. In the press, the evangelical voices that were most loudly conveyed were supportive of the no tolerance policies—at least until video and audio of the children in detention centers were more widely shared. Then even they could not suffer the shame of supporting clearly racist and inhumane policies disguised as securing the border and were compelled to rebuke the Trump administration. The Catholic Church seemed to have much more to say on this topic—including guidance for welcoming and integrating recent immigrants—but I am not Catholic and wanted something a bit closer to my own theological convictions.

As I began to dig deeper, however, I quickly realized that many evangelicals and Protestants—conservative and liberal—had quite a lot to say about the immigration topic. Not only were the vast majority of voices I read supportive of and compassionate towards the immigrants themselves, but they articulated a complex consensus-based perspective that one does not hear if you are listening only to press outlets. This perspective is rooted in Scripture, and acknowledges the complexity of living under the rule of law and under the rule of Christ. I also realized you are unlikely to hear this consensus Christian perspective without regard to whether the press outlet was mainstream or niche; the loudest microphones were invariably being given to the most divisive voices. This effectively rendered invisible those who were taking their lead on engaging this issue from Christ and the Scripture. For this reason alone, we cannot remain silent.

As I listened closer, to discourse in both the press and in the church, I came to realize that most Americans are not at all familiar with American immigration policies or its systems. There are several misconceptions that we’ll discuss over the next few weeks, but the most important one to mention now is that Americans believe that our immigration policies are rationally designed and fair. Many Americans believe there is a “line” or “process” similar to many administrative processes we experience here in the US that immigrants can submit to and gain entry to the US. As we will see, there are no such processes available to the vast majority of immigrants, and the system is widely considered unfair; this is why it is the consensus conclusion that our immigration policies are broken. But what do Americans need to know about the system in order provide our representatives with the authority they need in order to fix it?

The first thing we should do is break silence. The updated and revised book Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang is an excellent place to start, and I urge you to purchase, or obtain a library copy of, this book and follow this discussion. In breaking silence, we must also pray. We must believe that our prayers are not in vain, and understand that this problem cannot be solved apart from prayer.  I hope that you are blessed by this conversation, and see more clearly how God wants you to contribute to a solution to our broken immigration system. Would you share your thoughts, and how you have been involved?

Peace and Blessings, Royce


PostScript: Week 2 Training Update

This week, I have mixed feelings about my training. I certainly worked hard, and achieved my goal of six days per week training. However, I didn’t do all the running I wanted, and I think that part of that was due to some errors in planning on my end. Since I’m working off of a 10-day cycle instead of a 7-day cycle, this week looked a bit light to begin with, but I’m still not sure I ran enough miles. The first two workouts planned were a general aerobic 45 minutes run and some cross training. Instead of that, I switched things up a bit. I ran a 2.5 mile tempo run on Monday for a total of 5 miles, and 2×10 minutes hill sprints for a total of 40 minutes running plus some body weight calisthenics. I think I drastically overestimated my ability to run hills, or didn’t check my past workout logs for the hill workout duration I’d been running, because that workout flat out killed me. I was hoping to go for 4 rounds, but I only had two. I know my legs were shot because I went up to the field to try 10 minutes of strides and I hardly ran one. The next day, I took it relatively easy with some cross training/weights, and on Thursday went to the track for a hard interval workout of 4x1200m. That was a fun workout. Perhaps it was more fun because I had a chance to meet up my friends Dwight and Sam beforehand. On Friday, I didn’t think I could pull off a long run after those late-night intervals so I was back in the weight room, and although I had planned some deadlifts, another guy in the gym worked in with me and we ended up going much heavier than either one of us planned–in a good way. All that said, on Saturday I just didn’t have a chance to go out for my long run and could only fit in some cross training. That was probably all for the best anyways, since my legs were totally shot even without the long run and this week is still part of the same 10-day cycle to which the missed long run belongs. This week, hopefully, I’ll be able to add back in some of the miles and get back closer to my goal of 30 miles in a week.

One of the other things I’ve been thinking about is how important the mind is to endurance training and to Christian life. It’s so interesting how the mind works. On the one hand, you have to press your body to the breaking point to make sure you’re pushing yourself. On the other hand, the breaking point cannot be crossed by any means, or you will not be able to build enough consistent stimulus to reach your goals. It is a constant mental struggle to try and determine how much of your training stress is good stimulus, versus how much stress is coming from just thinking about how much stress one can endure. I think I may have been just as tired this week from thinking about my workouts as I was actually running or lifting through them. More on this next week.

It also occurred to me that I should probably tell folks why I started running in the first place. I’ve always been a runner, at least as part of my training for soccer, but what is it that had me start running more than 5 miles at a time? Maybe we’ll get into that next week instead?

Note: Postscript added 8/13/2018, 3:26 pm.

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Royce Francis

Royce is an associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering at the George Washington University. He conducts and teaches under the broad theme “SEED”: Strategic [urban] Ecologies, Engineering, and Decision making. His research and teaching interests include infrastructure sustainability and resilience measurement, risk analysis, and drinking water systems analysis. Royce is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA).

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