Many of those in our nation today are in mourning. They are angry and they are saddened. Some are shocked by the direction of our country. Others have seen this before. Still we mourn. We mourn for young adults, for contributing members of our communities, for our dear friends, who not only face deportation from a country that is literally all they have known as home, but who also face constant status anxiety—the sort of anxiety that tears apart someone’s self-image, that makes them see themselves always as other, always as illegal, always on edge waiting for removal. It not only threatens their ability to stay physically, but it threatens their emotional and mental well-being while here, the place that they have known as home but will not fully accept them. This is in addition to fathers and mothers, pastors and more, who are being torn from their families and communities in the name of the rule of law.
It is important to remember, that an anti-immigrant trend is not new. Nevertheless the current alarm is the swiftness and lack of conscience by which it is being enforced. ICE agents seem to show no inclination to restrict themselves to “bad hombres” unless “bad hombres” is code for “brown hombres.” The arrest and threatened deportation of pastor Noe Carias Mayorga makes this plain. In that case, ICE not only arrested a man who has been a model neighbor and pastor, but they also tried to assassinate his character, claiming him to be a repeat criminal who trafficked in false identities. To be clear, they are just trying to put in the worst light what was simply his crossing the border as a teen and young man. Pastor Carias is a man with a family and no record outside of youthful attempts to enter the country. He has children and a wife (all American citizens), and he is being taken from them.
ICE has shown little concern with whom it deports, the main criterion seeming to be simply finding anyone to deport. This further increases the status anxiety of our neighbors and dreamers, as when DACA runs out, ICE will have their information for deportation. The situation is cruel and heartless. But, it is also clearly a situation we are called to engage in—to follow Jesus in his mission to bring release for the captives and the poor (Luke 4:18-19).
I have seen a lot of Christians standing up for justice and rightness. They have quoted texts like Leviticus 19:33-34:
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
And this is right. On the one hand, note that many of us are not foreigners. We do not deal with the anxiety and self-inconsistency associated with our immigration status. We are the privileged (and that is obviously who I am talking to here). And that can mean two opposing but often tragically linked things. 1) We are the ones who have the most power to affect the situation, and 2) we are often the most blind to this reality because it does not affect us, because we can go home at night and turn off our anguish and can get to sleep. DACA recipients do not have that magic switch. Thus, we must remain engaged as well because…
On the other hand, we are reminded of a story that we have appropriated for ourselves. Leviticus reminds us that “we” were foreigners ourselves. Here the story is for Israel, and we have taken on this story as our own (whether “fictive” or not, it now defines the way we see the world); this is a story that privileges the immigrant and the sojourner. Mennonites have a history of sojourning as well, of depending on the kindness of whatever country would allow them to enter and flee persecution (Moravia, Russia, America, Canada. Uruguay, etc.). So there is a certain resonance with Peter’s (and other NT writers as well) even more striking assertion that we not only were sojourners and strangers, but we are now sojourners.
We embrace the story of immigrants and sojourners as our own. We may live in this country, but it is not ultimately our own. Its borders are not our borders. Its justice is not our justice. We are a people who are now on a journey, living into God’s kingdom, where our justice is God’s justice, our peace is God’s peace, our hope is in the reconciliation of all things. That is, in the putting to right of all things, making all things whole. And, we are people of God’s justice who see that what we are witnessing these days is not justice, this is not peace, this is not wholeness, so we can only pray and wage peace on our sojourn.
But, It is also important to not let this story delude us into thinking we (the privileged “citizens of America”) are victims. We are not. If you are like me, you are privileged; you are no victim (at least in this sense, many of our own citizens are marginalized in other ways. The events surrounding Charlottesville made that clear if it wasn’t already). The physical ancestors of European Mennonites today do not remain the persecuted and status anxious in America and Canada (though we should be aware of those Mennonites among us who do live through such persecution or status anxiety). My appeal to our status as immigrants is for us not a call to be blind to the power and privilege we have or to equate our status with those 800,000 DACA recipients or those other neighbors of ours fearing deportation.
Rather, what I mean is, in an important way, we are still sojourners, a way that involves us forsaking or rethinking so much of what we take for granted in our privilege. To be sojourners is to set ourselves free from the grasp of an identity formed around our privilege, economic status, or nationality, and learn instead that our identification is with the sojourner, the poor, and the dispossessed. Their anxiety is our anxiety, and their joy is our joy. Yet, we also live in spaces that give to us a certain amount of power. How can we use that to advocate and help the least among us? How can we find ways to sojourn with those whose is the Kingdom/kin-dom of God? If we remain quiet, we forfeit this kingdom identity. If we remain quiet in our privilege we have chosen a side, and it is not that of God’s justice and peace nor of the sojourner.
Some things we can do:
- Pray for DACA recipients
- Call your representatives (this can include advocacy for SB 54 in addition to calls on behalf of DACA recipients)
- Reach out to a DACA recipient that you know. Offer your support and let them know you love them and are fighting for them.
- Get involved in actions where we can and support rapid response teams, monetarily and with your time.
- Find little ways to be wagers of peace where you are. Speak boldly. Listen to those you disagree with and appeal to them on behalf of those in need. Plant seeds of justice, peace, reconciliation, and joy.
- [Help us find new and creative ways to act!]
Pasadena Mennonite Church supports LA Voice (PICO network), which will be organizing events around DACA advocacy, as well as advocating for a robust (not watered down or amended!) SB54. We will try to remain on top of those events.
We are continually reminded, that “law and order” often does not mean justice, and often it does not mean law and order either, at least not for all. But as my good friend Jonny Rashid, a pastor at Circle of Hope in Philadelphia, wrote this week, the administration is giving Christians yet again another opportunity to restore our moral voice. Let’s take that opportunity.