By Bill Mefford
The story of Jesus’ birth and of how his wandering family finally found refuge in a barn, born amidst animals and gathering shepherds still has great resonance for immigrants living in the United States today. It tells us that providing hospitality to those who most need it can being unexpected blessings for the entire world while, at the same time, it parallels so much of our national context today as the ruling authorities, threatened by the mere presence of Jesus as a baby, cracks down with overwhelming power, far beyond what is necessary.
Just as Herod did during the time of Jesus' birth, the trump administration is committing enormous resources to tear apart families and deport immigrants who provide no absolutely threat to their local communities. I have heard from immigrants directly how the enforcement actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials has generated immense fear as they no longer are ordered to prioritize levels of threats to local communities as they once were under the Obama Administration. This increased level of enforcement is being called a form of state-sponsored terror by those directly impacted.
Likewise, just as Mary and Joseph found refuge on the outskirts of town, so too are people of faith across the United States moving towards the fringes of society and renouncing the hardline tactics of ICE officials. Instead, they are serving and welcoming immigrants into their communities, congregations, and lives. Here are a few examples:
- In the hurricane-ravaged areas of South Texas and Florida, faith communities are serving all people in need, offering help especially to undocumented immigrants who are unable to qualify for government assistance because of their legal status.
- Lawyers with a church-related ministry, Justice for Our Neighbors, who provide legal help to low-income migrants, have worked tirelessly with DREAM Act students to apply and renew their application for DACA, and with refugees in their application for asylum, and to apply for U Visas for immigrants living in situations of violence. The lawyers have felt a special sense of urgency since the 2016 election and the intensity of ICE actions in arresting and deporting immigrants.
- The Sanctuary Movement among faith communities is steadily growing as more and more houses of worship are taking in undocumented families and shielding them from arrest and deportation by ICE officials. Faith leaders are refusing to become complicit with the administration’s anti-immigrant policies and instead are choosing to stand in the gap with their newly arrived neighbors.
According to a study put out by Human Rights Watch, the number of immigration arrests in the interior of the country, as opposed to at the border, in the first seven months of the trump administration increased by 42 percent over the same period last year. Most disturbing is that the number of interior arrests of immigrants who have no criminal record has nearly tripled.
Many of these people have long been in the United States, have spouses and children who are US citizens, and have long contributed to their communities. These are sisters and brothers in Christ who lead our worship services, volunteer for mission opportunities such as Justice for Our Neighbor clinics, and live in our neighborhoods.
The intensity of the enforcement by ICE officials, acting in direct accordance with the policies of the trump administration, violate basic human rights, including the right to family unity and the right to due process. Although governments have broad discretion to regulate migration, they must also weigh the impact of deportations on the rights of the immigrants. The US immigration system in most cases gives no airing or weight to immigrants’ ties to home and family. As members of our communities and congregations, Christians should demand that these rights be respected.
Thus, as Christians wait expectantly during this Advent for the birth of a baby who ultimately received God's calling to set the captives free, it is imperative for all Christians to take on this same ministry, share the call that so many are now following, and resist the draconian policies of this current administration. This is what Advent is all about.