I was a stranger and you invited me in
By Zoe Parakuo
More than three million refugees have been resettled in the United States in the past 40 years, giving victims of persecution and conflict a chance to build a new life here. Most U.S. citizens are descendants of immigrants and refugees and should not be afraid to open the door for others to enjoy the same freedom and opportunities. Only by putting aside racial stereotypes and attitudes towards immigrants can we fulfill God’s command to welcome the stranger (Leviticus 19:34).
As Christians, Jesus called us to live according to Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36, NIV).
The reality today is that immigration is not only a moral issue but also a political issue. During his campaign, president-elect Donald J. Trump stated that he would: “Restore integrity to our immigration system by prioritizing the interests of American’s first. Enforce our immigration laws – at the border wall and end sanctuary cities. Send criminals aliens home. Welcome those who embrace our way of life, but keep out immigrants and refugees who don’t through rigorous vetting.”
Refugees fleeing violence and persecution already go through an extremely rigorous vetting process before coming to the U.S. Immigrants with criminal records are currently being deported by the Obama administration – including those with decades-old DUI or minor drug possession convictions, such as Mennonite Pastor Max Villatoro, leaving behind families and communities reeling from their loss and doing nothing to improve public safety.
As for walls, physical barriers do little to stop people who are desperate from crossing them, but the isolation and fear they represent can foster conflict, hate and violence. Furthermore, many of those seeking asylum and safety in the U.S. are imprisoned in for-profit detention facilities, for months or sometimes years. These are immigrants who have not been accused of committing any crime, and many of whom have family in the U.S. who could care for them. Men are held separately from women and children, leaving families broken and with no means to communicate. Is this how Jesus envisioned us living according to Matthew 25?
Immigration policy goes far beyond issues of politics and economics, but is fundamentally about the issue of humanity, of treating people with the respect and dignity that all people deserve. Now, more than ever, it is important that those with the luxury of U.S. citizenship speak out for refugees and immigrants. Let your members of Congress know that you want immigration policies that are welcoming, sensible, and that respect the God-given dignity of every human being.
Zoe Parakuo is a policy intern for the fall semester at the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office as part of the Washington Community Scholars’ Center program at Eastern Mennonite University.