- April 19, 2013
Post submitted by Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre
Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre is a member of HRC’s Religion Council and professor of Social Ethics at the Iliff School of Theology. As a Latino committed to justice as a principle of his faith, he has devoted his scholarship to those on the margins. He writes compellingly about the need for both immigration reform and LGBT equality. He is the principle author of the A La Familia a joint project of HRC, the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, and the Latino/a LGBT organization, Unidos Unitas. In this piece he speaks passionately about why Christians need to be at the forefront of immigration reform.
The beloved apostle John, while exiled on the island of Patmos, writes a letter to the Christian church of Laodicea. He accuses the church of being neither cold nor hot. Because they are lukewarm, God will spit them out. The church of Laodicea says to itself “I am rich, I have made a fortune, and have everything I want.” Yet God says they fail to realize just how wretchedly and pitiably poor they have become, blind and naked. Nevertheless, while in the midst of their sin, God sends Laodicea a redeemer. “Look,” says our Lord, "I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share their meal." Who is this one we call Lord standing at the door of our churches asking to be let in?
Victoria Arellano, born in Mexico, came to the United States as a child. She was arrested when she was twenty-three years old on a traffic charge and sent to an ICE detention center in San Pedro, CA. The cost of that traffic violation was her life; for she was suffering from HIV. Repeatedly she begged staff members at the detention center to be treated by a doctor to get the antibiotics needed to stay alive, according to fellow immigrant detainees with whom Arellano shared a cell; but her pleads were ignored. Denied medication, she eventually developed complications which lead to her death. Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the very least of these, we do unto him. It is Arellano, she was a transgender undocumented woman who is knocking at our church’s door, the very least among us, who is Jesus in the here-and-now. The question we must therefore ask is if we will let all who are masked as Jesus in?
Latino/as, even though they have lived for hundreds of years on the land that would eventually become the United States, are seen as aliens. We find ourselves refugees and aliens in the country responsible for us being here. Even our descendants are not spared the indignation of being seen as foreigners, regardless of how many generations have inhabited the land. Our Latino/a physical features or Hispanic surnames make us a “race” that doesn’t belong.
Yet Jesus’ approach to the alien is quite different. In fact, Jesus ties salvation to how we treat aliens. On the Day of Judgment, as recorded by Matthew, all will be separated as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To the sheep on his right Jesus will say “I was . . . an alien and you took me in.” (25:31-46). For Jesus, the difference between the saved and the damned is not what doctrine they professed, what church they belonged to, or what profession of faith they proclaimed. The difference between sheep and goats is what they did, or did not do, with the aliens within their midst.
The past years have witnessed an attempt to come to terms with the presence of undocumented aliens. Regardless of the shape future legislation may take, as Christians, there exist moral guidelines by which our handling of undocumented aliens can be judged. They are:
- Laws and regulations that criminalize a group of individuals create an environment of racial profiling where overt expressions of ethnic discrimination, specifically toward Latino/as, both immigrants and U.S. citizens, flourishes.
- To deny preventive health care services to any human being based on documented status is both inhumane, goes against the express mandate of the biblical text (i.e., the story of the Good Samaritan), and places an increased burden on emergency health services.
- To refuse enforcing labor protection based on documentation status hurts all workers, including native-born, by allowing the continuation of labor exploitation.
- To continue with our current immigration policy creates a humanitarian crisis where those crossing the border find death in the desert, fall into the hands of unscrupulous human smugglers, or find employment with unprincipled business owners.
- To break up families is cruel and inhumane, causing psychological damage to children separated from their parents.
- The imago Dei safeguards basic human rights to a) earning a living wage, b) safety from physical or emotional trauma, and c) family unity. Our present immigration laws deny these basic human rights to over 12 million undocumented aliens residing in the U.S.
Over the coming weeks, HRC will chronicle the stories of a diverse group of Americans who are harmed every day by this country’s immigration laws. Stay tuned to HRC Blog for more.