Threat or friend?

Liza, a participant in an MCC livelihoods project in northern Iraq, welcomes guests with traditional tea. (Last name withheld for security reasons. Credit: MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky.)

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

As I read through the U.S. president’s executive orders on immigrants and refugees, I was immediately struck by the overall framing: immigrants and refugees are security threats to be feared, not human beings to be welcomed.

The order stopping the refugee program opens with the obligation to “protect the American people from terrorist attacks,” although the three-judge panel that halted the order noted that there is no evidence that anyone from “the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.”

The order on border security says that undocumented immigrants “present a significant threat to national security and public safety.” A second immigration order says that sanctuary communities in the U.S “have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”

Words like “aliens,” “illegal,” and “terrorists” can be used to take away the humanity and dignity of another person. As Christians, we should be deeply troubled by this language. The Bible clearly teaches that all are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Scripture also teaches us that we are to welcome the stranger and to remember that many of us, too, were once strangers (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Those who have traveled to any of the countries on the “ban list” (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen) have likely also discovered that these are welcoming, hospitable cultures. Despite the U.S. history of nearly 40 years of enmity with Iran, and the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, I was warmly welcomed when I visited those countries as a U.S. citizen.

Some Christians have told me that their support for President Trump is rooted in his pro-life policies. Vice President Pence, the highest official ever to address the annual anti-abortion rally, “March for Life,” on January 27 said, “I have long believed that a society can be judged by how we care for our most vulnerable – the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn.”

Later that same day, the Trump administration issued its executive order banning refugees from the United States for 120 days. As Christians who support life, we should not allow politicians to claim they are pro-life if their concern does not extend to refugees fleeing violent conflict and other threats to their lives. Many of the refugees coming to the U.S. today are families with parents who are seeking to keep their children alive and out of harm’s way.

Rather than “threats” to be feared, Scripture gives us other words and images: neighbor, brother, sister, friend (Matthew 22:39, James 2:14-17, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Everyone has their own unique story, but people around the world have the same basic needs and dreams.

We all desire to live in a safe and secure world, including those who undertake dangerous journeys to find refuge in the United States. Taking away the humanity of others leads in the opposite direction—more strife and enmity, rather than a safe and secure future for all.