Take another look. What if we saw asylum seekers as our brothers and sisters… | The Best Samaritan with Jamie Aten and Kent Annan
The Texas governor recently said he was considering an official declaration that the large number of immigrants arriving at the US-Mexico border constituted an “invasion,” echoing the bluster long used by conservative radio and cable. As the world watches – in horror – a real invasion unfold in Ukraine, the absurdity of this rhetoric portraying migrants coming to the United States in search of safety and sustenance as if it were an operation military is clear to many.
But many others – including a disproportionate number who share my evangelical Christian faith – seem to have bought into this misinterpretation, even though the migrants at the border are largely Christians themselves. In fact, the very individuals that some American evangelicals view as invaders might actually bring about spiritual revival.
Let’s be clear: an invasion is what the Russian military did to Ukraine, crossing a border with the intent of violent domination. When Ukrainians flee this violence to Poland, Romania and other neighboring countries, it is not an invasion: they are asking for asylum, which under European and American law is a right legal for a person fleeing a credible fear of persecution. And that’s also what many Central Americans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Cubans and others who have been apprehended along the US-Mexico border – including a significant number of Ukrainians in recent weeks – seek to do.
Most asylum seekers would prefer to avoid a dangerous crossing between ports of entry, but a series of policies employed across the US-Mexico border by the Trump and Biden administrations mean that most of those who s who simply approach the entry point and express fear of persecution are repelled. Many – often with the help of a profit-driven smuggler – instead passed through ports of entry, which may be illegal but which, explicitly under US law, allows an individual to seek asylum. .
Christians who believe in the dignity of every life as made in the image of God should want our government to err on the side of caring…
This does not mean that everyone who reaches the United States is entitled to asylum and is or should be allowed to stay, but it does mean that they are entitled to due process. Christians who believe in the dignity of every life as made in the image of God should want our government to err on the side of caution before sending anyone back to a situation where they could be persecuted or killed.
This pro-life insistence on due process for asylum seekers is why, since 2020, evangelical leaders have raised concerns about Title 42, which is essentially a public health emergency power that, according to the US government, is warranted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and which remains in effect despite the Biden administration announcing its intention to discontinue its use later this month. Fortunately, our European allies have not tried to use the pandemic as a pretext to turn back Ukrainian refugees regardless of the credibility of their fear of persecution.
They are human beings who seek help and mercy.
Whether they can ultimately document a credible fear of persecution and be granted asylum or not, individuals who show up at the U.S. border looking for U.S. government officers – unarmed but pleading, pleading open hands – are not invaders: they are human beings. beings, seeking help and mercy.
Christians, who believe that we have been recipients of divine grace, should be the first to want to help others. Obey Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves, a command that Jesus clarified, in his parable of the Good Samaritan, certainly applies to a vulnerable traveler from a different ethnic and religious background who is in need. . And, indeed, many local churches on both sides of the border, including some supported by World Relief which I have personally visited, are sacrificially caring for asylum seekers.
But many other Christians — especially of my variety, white evangelicals, whose views on immigration are more often informed by the media than by the Bible and whose media diet leans toward anti-immigrant perspectives — have been deceived by the rhetoric of “invasion”.
What is particularly ironic is that the vast majority of migrants apprehended at the US-Mexico border actually profess to be other Christians, coming from Latin American countries that are much more Christian (at least by self-identification ) than the United States.
While my Christian faith compels me to offer hospitality and love to immigrants of any religious tradition – and the U.S. government should not consider religion in making immigration policies except in insofar as a person’s religion is in fact the ground of persecution that qualifies an individual for asylum – the reality is that many of those whom some American evangelicals view as invaders are other evangelicals. The Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which collectively accounted for almost half of all arrests at the US-Mexico border last year, are also the most evangelical Protestant countries. from Latin America. I personally prayed with evangelical Central Americans who had been waiting for months in a church on the Mexican side of the border for the opportunity to seek asylum. Their faith in God’s provision inspires me – and hearing Christians compare them, essentially, to Vladimir Putin committing atrocities is deeply offensive.
Immigrants may in fact present the best hope for a revival of Christianity…
As my co-authors Eric Costanzo and Daniel Yang argue in our new book Inalienable: How the Kingdom’s Marginalized Voices Can Help Save the American Church, far from being invaders, immigrants may in fact present the country’s best hope. a revival of Christianity in the United States, bringing with it (or sometimes embracing when it arrives) a vibrant Christian faith that can help American evangelicals recognize some of the blind spots and syncretism within our own faith. As Asbury Theological Seminary President Tim Tennent observes, “The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian revival in North America…this group that we want to exclude is actually the group that we we need most for spiritual transformation”.
Of course, the U.S. government must establish and enforce laws – both to ward off anyone who might intend harm and to offer protection to those who flee evil – regardless of the impact of immigration on the growth or decline of a particular religious tradition.
But as Christians, we must firmly reject the language of “invasion” – both because it is slanderous of vulnerable neighbors and because those vulnerable neighbors are in many cases brothers and sisters in Christ whose the presence would be a blessing to the American church.
Matthew Soerens is the US Director of Church Mobilization for Global Relief and is the co-author of Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the US Church, Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of Crisis Refugee World and Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate.