it's a lot easier to be against immigration reform when you have papers

black and white hand 

* i wrote this post months & months ago, before everything broke out in arizona.  i never finished it & decided to now as part of this month’s synchroblog.  check out the other links at the bottom of this post.  lots of interesting stuff!

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one of the most controversial and popular posts i have ever written was about health care reform called it’s easy to be against health care reform when you have insurance.  i always joke that i wish people would get as riled up about justice & equality & mercy for the poor and marginalized as much as they get riled up about the thought of government-run health care. it is always interesting to me what presses people’s hot buttons; well, it’s more weird than interesting, and i wonder what might be different in the world if christians took all the time they spent arguing about Bible interpretation and channeled it into advocating for the least of these instead.

i am very passionate about immigration reform for a variety of reasons.  first and foremost, i believe that as a Christ-follower, it is my responsibility to advocate for those without voice & power regardless of race, gender, socioeconomics & a wide variety of other reasons why people are oppressed & marginalized.  also, my husband is hispanic; his parents immigrated to the US from el salvador when he was four years old.  they had papers & are some of the most dedicated, loyal, faithful american citizens this country could ever ask for.  at the same time, they have helped many people over the years get their papers, find their way, and learn how to make a life here.  lastly, while i respect that the laws of this land are very complicated, just because it’s the law doesn’t mean i have to agree with it or that it’s right.

i am not going to get into all the ins and outs of immigration reform in this blog; the best sources for that are sojourners, who always do a great job of really breaking down the issues & helping us understand what’s at stake and how we can influence government decision making.

the part that i’d like to focus on is what’s going on inside each of us about it.  why are we scared of illegal immigrants?  what if we were treated like them?  are we willing to look seriously at the power dynamics that lie underneath and respect that it goes far beyond just a current events issue?

here are some of my half-baked thoughts about why i think it’s easy to be against immigration reform when we have papers.

  • we must come face to face with how much we feel threatened by people who aren’t like us.   i think this is a big issue in this conversation because we tend to be so segregated in all kinds of ways–across socioeconomics, race, religious preferences, etc. i can’t tell you how many people who make derogatory comments about spanish speakers speaking spanish in public.  why does that freak us out so much?   it’s just their language, and um, even though we act like it, english-speakers aren’t the center of the universe.  i think we need to examine our prejudices.  i noticed one time when i was driving down the street how i locked my doors when i came to a street corner with some african american kids standing on it.  it felt horrible, my reflex reaction, and i have reflected on that moment many a time.  i think we must continually examine the truth in our hearts about how we feel about people who are different from us.  why do they scare us?  what makes us feel weird around them?   what does it say about us?  what is God stirring up in us about it?
  • we need to respect that each and every one of these “illegal immigrants” have a story. real, ugly, beautiful stories of a life on this earth with no power and margin.  they are mothers & fathers & daughters & sons just like us, with the same hopes & dreams & desires & fears.  they tell tales of abuse and hunger and thirst and life and love.  not one of the people i know who have immigrated here ever wished that they had to, in a similar vein that i don’t know one single woman who has had an abortion that wanted to.  oh, it’s so easy to say “well, they could have just stayed and figured it out” but my response to that is “try it for a while and see how desperate you might get to build a better life for your kids.” true compassion comes from putting ourselves in another man’s shoes.  it’s so easy to point when we’ve never been there.
  • throwing in the “you always have to follow the law no matter what” argument is very inconsistent with many biblical stories. yes, no doubt, i am all for following the laws & rules of a culture and God’s word talks about submitting to the authorities.  at the same time, we are also called to “follow God, not man”; look at the story of abraham, an illegal immigrant who lied to protect his family & left all that he knew behind.  he is the father of israel yet in this current culture he would be in the ICE facility waiting to get deported.   i just think we can’t get away from the reality that regardless of how they got here, they are here & we have to look at the much bigger story about our humanity, our hearts, power & the dynamics of inclusion & exclusion over the government’s laws. some good material on this has been written by r. danny carroll who is an old testament professor at denver seminary called christians at the border: immigration, the church, and the Bible. i haven’t read it but i had the chance to glance through it and it looked really solid.
  • is it possible we’re jealous of how hard others work? i am just wondering, that’s all.  it’s a little like the workplace where everyone gets mad at the hard worker for working faster than they are because it means that others might have to up our game?
  • physical borders represent emotional borders. i think tighter restrictions on border control and the idea of a mile high electric fence that “keeps the riffraff out” is a metaphor for something far deeper that is going on within us in our lives, our communities, and our churches.  we protect and insulate ourselves instead of learning and embracing others.  our lines get drawn and we hide behind them because it’s “the law” instead of engaging in the hard work of humbling ourselves and respecting we might have something to learn from people who aren’t like us.  this happens with world religions, racial differences, socioeconomic differences, and a whole host of other dividers.
  • these friends are living in fear and without basic human rights. my husband is a pro-bono lawyer & works with domestic violence victims in denver, mainly spanish speakers.  through him i hear story after story of women who are being stripped of basic human dignity and in horribly abusive situations but are terrified of going to the authorities out of fear for deportation.  the immigration authorities aren’t under the same jurisdiction & protections that local law enforcement are and have un-checked power & control that can be really scary.
  • since when were the ways of the kingdom of God about protecting ourselves? the ways of Jesus are radically un-self-protecting & require risk & trust & sacrifice.  i do not expect all the laws of the land to bend toward Jesus-y ways, but i am always so shocked by a lot of christian’s individual and corporate response to this issue.  i think what is at the heart of it is a lack of trust.  a feeling that if “we don’t protect ourselves, we’re toast.”  by digging in our heels toward self-protection instead of offering it up to those who need it more, we dismiss the power of the Holy Spirit and buy into the lie that this world is about us feeling safe, in control, and comfortable.

oh, please don’t think for a minute i presume to know very much about the ins and outs of immigration legislation.   i don’t.  but i believe that the reason why this touches such a chord in our hearts is because it taps into core-humanity-issues of prejudice & power & fear. and i think we’d much rather hide behind “because it’s the law” than look at that.  i have deep respect for so many people i have encountered out here in blog-land and in denver who are passionately advocating and working tangibly on behalf of illegal immigrants & judicial reform.  it has renewed my hope, seeing so many beautiful friends who are using their papers, power, and privilege, they will use those things on behalf of those who don’t. i sorta think that’s what Jesus would do.

ps: below is the song that came to mind as i was writing this post (the bad words are bleeped out).  yeah, until we’ve walked a mile in another’s shoes, we don’t know what it’s like to have to choose.


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here are some other bloggers writing on this topic this week.  check them out:

Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being the Flag
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can Make Dreams Come True
Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories
Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?
Steve Hayes at Khanya – Christians and the Immigration Issue
Ellen Haroutunian – Give Me Your Tired …
Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear
Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge
Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother
Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Right
Jonathan Brink – Immigration Synchroblog
Peter Walker at Emerging Christian – Synchroblog Immigration Reform
Steven Calascione at Eirenikos – The Jealousy of Migration
George Elerick at The Love Revolution – We’re Not Kings or Gods
Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House – What we resist not only persists but will eventually become our landlord
K. W. Leslie at The Evening of Kent – On American Immigration

Jeff Goins – When Immigration Gets Personal

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy – Like you I am more than uncomfortable about a lot of things that are said by people (yes, even Christians) when it comes to this issue – the remarks about someone not speaking english (why is that such a big deal to so many), the remarks about going back to where you came from (no matter how bad things were there??), the remarks about getting in line and obeying the law (the line is 6 – 28 years long and what do you do when obeying the law means keeping your family in conditions that put them in danger) and other uncaring and hurtful remarks make me angry and sad at the same time. You ask what is underneath it all. Is it fear? I think there is some of that, but I also think there is the tendency to get very territorial and self centered about preserving a life of comfort and security. Like you said, as Christians, we are called to live a life of risky and outrageous love and hospitality and sometimes that means we have to give up some comfort and security in order to play a part in the transformation and reconciliation that God has planned. What I have noticed (and not just with this issue) is that once you make a personal connection so that there are names and faces attached it isn’t so easy to spout off the uncaring remarks and make selfish demands. Whatever the issue, I always say that the most convincing arguments are people – their lives and their stories.

  • Kathy–
    I think it’s interesting that the women bloggers all have hit on the subtopic of physical=emotional and spiritual borders. Nicely done–thanks, as always, for your perspective!

  • Kathy,

    I guess my Summer hiatus is over and am back reading one of my favorite blogs, yours.

    Got lots of thoughts on this issue but very disorganized at this time.

    Neveheless, been reading Bonhoeffer’s biography by Metaxas (highly recomend it) and I see a thread in America which was present in pre-war Germany and it concerns me greatly. Also interesting is what is happening in France at present with the Gypsies. Borders and papers…..interesting concept…I travel all over Latin America and Canada for my job and coming across the border back in the States and it’s been only in the last year or so, that the fear started creeping in of someday being barred from re-entry (I do have my green card).

    The other highly concerning thought, is members of my extended family, who became US citizens, and how vociferous and antagonist they are toward Immigrants…it makes me very sad, and I grieve as a beliver.

    Kathy, keep up with the challeging posts…..

    a fellow sojourner and citizen of the Universe……

    BTW, while they had the green cards, my parents were considered persons without a county and required special one time passports when and if hey travelled outside of the US.

  • Well, Kathy … this issue, like every other issue I know, is at the core as issue of perception and perspective. I was saying over at Jesus Creed the other day that folks tend to find what they’re looking for. If one is a person who has been taught that hard work and honesty are foundational, then that’s the “glasses” they look out and it colors everything they see.

    I, as you may know, tend to wear what I call purple cHesed glasses … and they give me a very different view from what I grew up with — as well as what I see around me.

    There is so much anger and frustration around all these social and political topics these days … mostly I’m sad that there is so much mud-slinging everywhere :^/

    And it’s why I am so grateful for your voice in just every conversation I’ve heard it. You speak for righteousness without attitude … and I am grateful to you.

    There is no easy answer to the dilemma of being called to lay down our life and pick up our cross. Way too many folks want to make the Kingdom all about them and not about God’s work done in God’s way.

    It’s a mess, isn’t it? It’s corny, I know, but I love what I heard one preacher say: well, that’s why we need a messiah…

  • Ok, Ill say it. What about the economics of the situation? I understand (or as much as someone can who has not experienced the horrors of abuse) the desire to have and give my children a better life. If it were up to me, and it were realistically feasible, I would have dozens of refugees living with me. But that’s just it; it isn’t economically feasible for me to carry that out.

    Nor does it seem feasible that we, as a nation, can financially support all people who come to this country with nothing. I understand most want to work and be independent of government involvement. But I also understand, for a time the US will be financially responsible for them. Where is the funding for this going to come from?

    I live in a small Maine town. Over the past several years the Catholic Church has “sponsored” hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of refugees. They bring them to the same couple of towns where they are taught to sign up for state and local services. Then, for the most part, the church abandons them to the welfare system. A local mayor wrote a wonderfully compassionate letter to the editor asking that those refugees already here refrain from bringing others to town. The reason? The town was broke. With no help from those sponsors (and being tax exempt the church really had contributed nothing other than a plane ticket) the town was going bankrupt. The mayor was met with such hatred from those living safely in more affluent towns that he resigned.

    It’s a confusing topic on many fronts. It’s not cut and dry by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t have the answers. But I do think we have to look at things from all the fronts. Not to just assume because someone is hesitant about relaxing immigration laws they must be a monster who hates those who are different from us.

  • Kathy,

    If I may suggest, you should do a post on Chrisians and patriotism… the immigration issues has some underlying nationalistic tone to it…

  • all you synchrobloggers – thanks for participating & posting the links. it really was a good one and i look forward to the upcoming months!

    liz – i am so with you, especially when you said “but I also think there is the tendency to get very territorial and self centered about preserving a life of comfort and security.” i also really agree that when you know someone, they are your friend, they sit at your table & eat and you grow in love and learn from each other, it changes everything.

    beth – yeah, that is interesting, isn’t it? thanks for writing and sharing! i really did enjoy the posts. lots of great challenging thoughts.

    carlos – oh it is always great to hear from you, my friend from afar. yeah, it is just wild, isn’t it. weirder and weirder every day and i can really relate to you in that some i know who were immigrants themselves who now are adamantly against immigration reform, mainly all strong christians who are maybe getting sucked into the propaganda or ? it reminds me of the parable of the unforgiving servant. thanks for sharing, love & peace & hope to your familia…ps: on your second comment, i will have to give that one a try, stay tuned, it might take me a year, though, i’m unreliable that way, ha ha.

    peggy – thanks for sharing & taking time to post, i always so appreciate it. yes, we’ve made quite a mess of all kinds of things, haven’t we? i do think the mud-slinging is the hardest part and honestly, just how riled up everyone gets about it and how mixed up God & politics gets. makes me sad and like you, reminds me, of our desperate need for God’s spirit to show us the way….peace to you.

    annah – i so appreciate your honesty & totally get what you are saying. the economics of it all are really hard. no easy answers here, that’s for sure, but i do feel very strongly that there are enough resources in this world for everyone, far beyond the borders of this country. the problem is our resources are not distributed properly. i’m not a communist, don’t worry. i’m just saying that there really shouldn’t be a scarcity of resources the way that there is. i think this part is something that should really be examined and i am so glad that you brought it up because it needs to be added in clearly to the conversation. thank you.


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