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Not So Strange: 3 Human Ways We Can Make Immigration Easier Now

January 23rd, 2015

Yesenia is the same age as my son, 34. In a note from her today I read her pleading query: “We are children of God. What happened to one nation under God?”

Punishing immigrants

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Yet, since colonization, each wave of immigrants has been punished for coming to these shores. Stereotypes and discrimination, servitude and slavery, cruel words and physical and emotional torture are the gifts we have often given to those strangers who come to us seeking safer and better lives.

Most recently the national focus has been on Latina/Latino people. Wherever we listen or look there are words, injustices and unjust restrictions and incarcerations that are being bandied about as though the stranger among us is of no importance in our religious, spiritual and human consciences.

Here are three things we can do to make immigration easier beginning today.

Meet an immigrant. Maybe this is someone who has been in this country for a long time; maybe they are the “good” immigrants who came in the “right” and “legal” way—or perhaps it is someone who came in the back door. Assumptions are demons. How can we begin to address a “problem” without a face and a heart attached? That is at best arrogance and paternalism. Every solution to any human challenge is based on relationships with real people, observation of actual need, and active listening to the people involved in the situation. Get to know an immigrant before you try to help.

Develop a reciprocal relationship with someone who was not born in the United States.

At UCOM (United Church Outreach Ministry) we offer opportunities every day to get to know people who are strangers. The food pantry served 2,000 more people in 2014 than we have in any of our previous 30 years—34,000 people. That’s a great pool of potential friends. The people with whom we really develop relationships, though, are the hundreds of people of many nationalities and ethnicities and languages who volunteer their time. These are the people who work with us to ensure a warm welcome and plenty of food and clothing and caring for everyone who comes to us. 85% of the children with whom we work in Homework House™, a tutoring and mentoring program, are Latino/a—strangers, aliens, sojourners in their new community. There is no better way to see the benefits and responsibilities of connecting with another person than to mentor a child. When we take responsibility for helping a child (or an adult, for that matter), we open ourselves to the flow of caring that enhances us and everyone around us.

Communicate to everyone, everywhere in daily conversation what we have found to be truth.

Yesenia recognizes this as true in spite of the daily abuse she sees—that we are all God’s children, born to be one with all the “others”, all the “strangers”, all the “aliens”.

We can tell people that humans drew the lines on the maps—the lines that mortal law-makers dare to use to make people “illegals”. We can change the “step across this line” mentality into a circle that is wide enough to include whoever wants to be part of the community, the family, the neighborhood that we also inhabit. We can tell our friends that our own fears vanished when we got to know people of other ethnicities as people rather than as categories.

People are only strangers until we know one another. That’s not so strange, now is it?

Comments

#1 Kim Sanwald said:

What a beautiful and well written post Bruce! I particularly like the reference to attaching a face and heart to our human problems.

#2 Bruce Roller said:

Thank you, Kim. I have found in 40+ years of working for equality for groups of people that individuals are much harder demonize or discredit than are categories and labels. As one of my friends who lives with Downs Syndrome is fond of saying, "Labels are for jars, not people."

#3 Bruce Roller said:

This man's story illustrates the brokenness of our immigration system. There is also a way you can help now! http://m.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/23/1359722/-This-man-s-story-is-exactly-what-is-wrong-with-immigration?detail=email

#4 Bruce Roller said:

Here's an interesting twist on immigration reform that looks more to the economic side of the issue. http://fortune.com/2015/01/29/does-it-cost-more-to-keep-illegal-immigrants-in-the-u-s-or-to-deport-them/

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