Why do we care for immigrants?

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Woody Allen once joked about a man who went to a psychiatrist and said, “Doc, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken.” When the doctor asked, “Well, why don't you turn him in,” the man replied, “I would, but I need the eggs.”

It is easier to remain stuck in deep-rooted old behaviors and outdated human conducts even when they no longer function well. We're more comfortable with what we know and what we are accustomed to. We prefer status quo. We may discern that a change is long overdue, but as Woody Allen said, “We need the eggs.”

The Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj, president of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists

An important issue that craves and calls for our national attention today is the issue of immigration reform for the refugees and asylum seekers who come from diverse circumstances and under varied categories. As a faith community, we are invited to shift our focus “to see the image of God in ones who are not in our image.” We are called to recognize, acknowledge and take remedial action upon the destructive effect the existing forceful deportation has inflicted upon the families of immigrants. We are summoned to search for something more than the eggs.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and social activist, once said that it was not ideas that change the world but simple gestures of love done to those around us, and, more often, to those we feel most at odds with. In order to save the world, we must serve the people in our life. Then he surmised, "You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything." The United Methodist Church’s commitment to comprehensive immigration reform clearly demonstrates that we are not only engaged in simple gestures of love, but that we stand in solidarity with strangers and neighbors in need as well. Our faith in Christ is not a mere dogma or belief but an active intervention for the weak and the vulnerable in hours of their greatest susceptibility.

In our commitment to this vital ministry, we are convinced that advocacy by grassroots people is an important part of the process. We join the throngs of biblical advocates like Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, Apostle Paul and numerous others for humane and compassionate treatment of the strangers and neo-neighbors among us. In the final analysis, we are judged not just as individuals but as a nation.

On July 31, Rev. Paul Fleck and I, along with several members of the multi-faith community, gathered in the park across from the White House to make our voice known to the President and all elected officials that it is cruel and inhumane to separate families and inflict undue pain upon hapless children through forceful deportation of their parents. Our goal was to take the marginalized and repressed voices of the forcefully broken immigrant families from the periphery, from what we might call the Outer Hebrides of the political scene, to the integral part of our daily interaction.

We pleaded with the elected officials to go beyond their traditional community to listen to the voice of the muted, and take a sincere effort to know all the voices and anxieties of all the groups in their constituency. Subsequently, several clergy and laity were arrested, jailed, and fined as they were deemed disruptors and agitators.

Photo courtesy of UMNS.

Many in our churches and communities are indeed sympathetic, sentimental and earnest about the current immigration issues. Nonetheless, the overall mood is grim, foreboding, which are occasionally sprayed with meaningless jargon and circular constructions tossed at the immigrants by those who are in power. Immigration reform is currently treated as a soiled shroud. There is no momentum, no action, only a waterfall process.

We admit that there are no easy solutions to this complex problem. But what is deeply disconcerting is the silence and inaction in the political higher-up. Hence we, as a faith community, are engaged in two major fronts: advocacy and education. We organize the faith community for this just concern and educate the grassroots--and grass tops—organizations about the present unacceptable plight of the new immigrants. We are determined to carry our influence and weight to the corridors of power and are willing to use these advantages to serve as advocates and alleviate the pain of the new immigrants.

In one of his pastoral letters, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini cited a passage from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and, in doing so, drove home a poignant message. In the story, the cynical Ippolit Terentiev asks Prince Myshkin, “Is it true, that you once said that the world will be saved by beauty?” Then he sarcastically adds, “What kind of beauty will save the world?” The prince does not respond to his critic with words. However, as we read the rest of the story, the readers are left to believe that the answer is found in the context of the prince’s life - a life of great suffering and pain. “The beauty that will save the world is the beauty of sharing the pain of the other,” surmises the Cardinal.

The Immigration Task Force of our denomination indeed listens to and shares the pains of the vulnerable neo-immigrants so the miracle of God’s comfort may readily occur. In standing on the traditions of Prophet Isaiah, we invite the members of the Church to join us in the ministry of comfort and restoration.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says the Lord God,” Isaiah 40:1.

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