taking the words of Jesus seriously

Remember the children separated from their parents at the border and held in detention? They were children whose families had escaped terrible violence in their home country to legally request asylum.  This incident was the tip of the iceberg of an immigration system that is ineffective, illogical, and inhumane.  The U.S. immigration system tears apart families, destroys the dreams of young people, and abandons refugees. It is a racialized system – while over half the people who are in the country without legal immigration documentation are people who have come here on visas and overstayed, the focus in immigration enforcement has been the southern border. Images used to promote further enforcement often show brown-skinned impoverished populations. 

Under the Trump administration, executive orders and regulatory changes made the system more restrictive and more vicious. While there is broad bipartisan consensus (over 70% in multiple polls) about the kind of immigration system that we would all prefer, it has not been possible yet to achieve this goal. We have been unable as a country to even pass the Dream Act (which would provide legal options to immigrate for people who entered the country as children), and families continue to be separated both at the border and in the interior of the country through deportations.

READ: With New Executive Order, This Immigrant is Leaving Church Sanctuary After 3.5 Years

One of the key obstacles in moving progressive immigration policies from support to reality is the lack of passion and hope. Non-immigrant (mostly white) evangelical churches lack the passion needed for sustained advocacy for and with immigrant communities. The average American person does not call their members of congress unless an issue is deeply personal.  The topic of immigration has yet to become a matter of personal passion. But if we are attentive to Scripture we know the church is mandated to care passionately for all people. If the Church does not passionately and sacrificially care for all people, we are not living as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Immigrant churches know that they are in the minority and lack hope, which discourages them from advocating.  When immigrant and non-immigrant believers come together in joint mission, non-immigrants become more passionate and immigrants more hopeful

Christians have unique gifts to contribute both to the long-term solution and the support of suffering individuals and families. There are 92 scripture passages in the Bible calling us to hospitality, including Jesus’ own statement of intimate solidarity in Matthew 25:35 – in which he tells us that our reaction to an immigrant person is our reaction to him. In order to address our immigration crisis, we need to be equipped for an effective, multi-layered, and faith-rooted response. The church carries a unique hope for the solution to this national crisis. 

However, Christian leaders need to be equipped to carry out this solution. A bilingual Professional Certificate program jointly offered by Matthew 25/Mateo 25 and the Centro Latino of Fuller Theological Seminary enables immigrant and non-immigrant leaders to equip their ministries to respond in a multi-layered and effective way. The program includes a biblical and theological basis for this work, trauma and resilience awareness, legal and advocacy strategies.  In this program, I have witnessed faith leaders grow in their commitment and courage. Participants have led their churches to get meaningfully involved in the immigrant rights movement. They are creating more holistic responses by moving their congregations to action. 

This professional certificate program is unlike any other as it prepares church leaders and congregations to engage the immigration crisis from a faith-rooted commitment. Churches receive the tools they need to provide a holistic response by getting involved in direct services as well as advocacy for systemic change. 

To learn more about The Church’s response to the immigration crisis program, go to www.immigrationcrisis.org 

About The Author

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Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra is the author with Dr. Peter Heltzel of “Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World” (Intervarsity Press). She is a Lutheran Pastor with over 40 years of experience in congregational (English and Spanish) and community ministry, including church-based service and community development programs, congregational/community organizing, and legislative advocacy. She serves as Assistant Professor of Integral Mission and Transformational Development for the School of Intercultural Studies for Fuller Theological Seminary as well as Coordinator of a Professional Certificate program for Hispanic pastors and church leaders at Fuller’s Centro Latino. She coordinates the Ecumenical Collaboration for Asylum Seekers and serves on the leadership team of Matthew 25/Mateo 25 (a bipartisan Christian network to protect and defend families facing deportation in the name and spirit of Jesus.) She serves as a consultant (training, facilitating, organizing, and leading strategic planning) for a variety of national/international organizations, including World Vision, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Christian Community DevelopmentAssociation.

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