What Would Jesus Do?

by Laura Danielson, a collaborator on the Green Card Stories book
The Lamp Beside the Golden Door

Those who know me may be surprised that I begin this post with a phrase that is most often associated with evangelical Christians. After all, as the daughter of a Lutheran missionary father who became Unitarian upon retirement, I am decidedly agnostic.  Maybe it is the fact that I spent my formative years in a south Asian land swirling with the world’s religions, but I’ve never been able to say the Creed (which is a statement of faith that there is one and only one god before me.)  Still, I do notice when people of any faith stand up and do the right thing, as many religious groups are  beginning to do when it comes to the subject of immigration in America.

As the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the New York-based National Latino Evangelical Coalition recently told a conference of evangelical leaders in Birmingham, “Because I’m a Christian I believe in comprehensive, common-sense, humane immigration policy…Hospitality is not at the margins of scripture. Jesus wasn’t kidding around when he said, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’”

Alabama’s recent immigration law was designed to put such a tight squeeze on undocumented people that it would make life impossible, forcing people to depart.  Last summer, shortly after the bill was signed, twenty different faith groups joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center to file a federal lawsuit arguing that the law is unconstitutional and would lead to racial profiling and unlawful searches and seizures that violate the 4th Amendment.  The faith based groups also raised 1st Amendment concerns that the law “violates core values of various faiths because it criminalizes acts of love and hospitality – commandments from our God of many names.”

This is not just happening in Alabama.  As conditions worsen for immigrants across the country, all kinds of faith groups are advocating for immigrant rights, such as in McAllen, Texas, where Catholics and Protestants coalesced for the Second Annual Interfaith Convocation for Immigration Reform.  In Chicago last October eleven religious congregations announced that they are “immigrant welcoming” communities.  A Rabbi in New York reminded his followers last summer that Jews have  been outsiders and strangers throughout history and that it is incumbent upon them to empathize with and support undocumented workers, advocating for reform.  The Mormon Church (which is at odds with Mitt Romney in this regard) supported  a law signed last year by Utah’s governor that allows undocumented immigrants to remain in the state if they worked and didn’t commit crimes. A statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops back in 2003 even goes so far as to assert that all human beings have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families and that sovereign nations have the right to control their borders for the common good, but not when the human rights of individuals are violated.

As a kid I always got a weekly dose of Sunday School, and I took the stories about Jesus to heart because they were stories about doing the right thing. I learned that Jesus was kind to strangers, turned the other cheek to his enemies, championed the cause of the oppressed, and stood up to authority when justice required it. As Rev. Joseph Darby, of the Morris Brown AME Church wrote in December, “(Jesus) added no qualifying terms about nationality…The words, deeds and life experience of Jesus don’t describe someone who was hostile, divisive, mean-spirited or exclusionary, but someone who embraced all humankind and worked to better the lives of those shunned and oppressed by the religious and political powers who controlled his nation.”

And speaking of people doing the right thing, here are shining examples from the last few weeks:

  • Brody Smith, the opponent running against the undocumented student Jose Luis Zelaya in the Texas A&M student  body presidential election said when the subject was raised that he thought it an unfair question and that he would trust Zelaya if he was elected and that, “He has an Aggie ring on his finger…And we all bleed maroon.”
  • Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck came out in support of the idea of granting undocumented people driver’s licenses, stating, “Why wouldn’t you want to put people through a rigorous testing process? Why wouldn’t you want to better identify people who are going to be here?”
  • On Friday more than 2000 students walked out of class at North Miami High School in a show of support for the school’s valedictorian, Daniela Pelaez, who had just been ordered deported. “Over my dead body will this student be deported,” said the school system’s superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, who held her hand and walked with her.
  • The Association of Departments of Family Medicine cancelled the location of its national convention , which was scheduled to be in Mobile, Alabama, citing its overly-strict immigration law.
  • Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued an executive order prohibiting police from asking about a person’s citizenship status days before the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was due to implement a program there that would check the immigration status of everyone arrested. She cited concerns that the program would have a chilling effect on people working with law enforcement.
  • ICE announced Thursday that it was exerting “prosecutorial discretion” and would not be deporting undocumented protesters in North Carolina for disrupting a legislative meeting on immigration.

And finally, there’s this:

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