I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., so I could meet my elected representatives and advocate for immigrants. President Trump set an expiration date of six months for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which means several people I pastor may be deported soon. I unequivocally stand with them and speak against the expansion of government deportation plans.
Why? Because the Bible clearly and redundantly tell us do so in passages like Exodus 23:9 — “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”
I also made this trip because people like Carlos are a part of my congregation.
Carlos is a husband and father to two kids. He is a documented immigrant working in Madras. A few years ago, Carlos witnessed a crime. The sheriff’s department asked him to come to their offices to make a witness statement, but when he arrived, they detained him as a suspect. After several hours, they determined he was not a suspect and intended to let him go.
Then Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staff members called the sheriff because they wanted to interview Carlos too. ICE is feared because it has the power to deport immigrants but also because stories circulate of rough and inhuman practices. ICE operates with little oversight or transparency. ICE agents wanted to interview Carlos, and they asked the sheriff’s office to hold him until they could do so.
Carlos sat in jail for nine months waiting for ICE agents to arrive — nine months with no income for his family, no criminal charges against him, and no due process for his defense. When ICE eventually arrived, its agents took Carlos to a detention center and interviewed him over the course of two weeks. Then they released him back to his family, determining he was in the country legally and he had not committed a crime.
This happened in my community. More of these incidents happen in communities around the country. Followers of Jesus should be the first to bear witness to the treatment of immigrants and then to use the power we possess on behalf of those with less power.
That is why I went to Washington.
My trip was a whirlwind of advocacy. In less than 24 hours, I joined other clergy for a press conference where pastors washed the feet of four DACA students. It was picked up by NBC News, the Huffington Post and several religious news outlets. We visited House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, our two Oregon senator’s offices and our local district representative’s office.
I traveled with Wendi, a local DACA student, and copies of a photo of several families from our congregation. Everywhere I went, I showed the picture and told stories about people like Carlos.
I also talked about another family from our church and their son, Jonathan. Jonathan is 16 years old and a DACA recipient. He told the U.S. government where he lives and the names and addresses of his family members so he could receive a two-year permit to remain in the United States. When DACA was repealed, Jonathon’s status was given an expiration date.
Jonathon has four siblings who were born in the U.S., and so they are U.S. citizens. But Jonathon’s parents returned to Mexico for two months to see if they could find work to sustain their family. They could not, but while they were there, Jonathon was born. His birth in Mexico means he does not have the protections of citizenship shared by his brothers and sisters. He worries about how to make a life if he is ever forced to leave them. He carries a burden of fear no 16-year-old should have to bear. I recently asked him how he was doing, and tears instantly formed in his eyes.
Christians should speak up on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Welcoming immigrants is simple obedience to Scripture. The Bible does not speak in abstract theory or principles, but in concrete terms — stories of immigrants, commands on how to treat immigrants, and what God thinks about immigrants.
The Hebrew word ger — which most Bible translations render as “foreigner,” “ alien,” “sojourner” or “immigrant” — appears 92 times in the Old Testament. By the count of theologian Orlando Espin, “Welcoming the stranger is the most often repeated commandment in the Hebrew Scriptures, with the exception of the imperative to worship only one God.”
It is not just the Old Testament. Christians should remember the generations that came before us. We began as a migrant movement. When fear of Christians aroused hostility, most Christians fled and migrated into foreign land where many of them were regarded as “illegal.”
I let my elected representatives know that I care deeply for people like Carlos and Jonathon. I hope they will have the courage to stand for people with very little power. I will do the same, because the story of immigration is the story of God’s people.
Rick Russell is the lead pastor of Madras Free Methodist Church in Madras, Oregon, and Mountain View Fellowship in Redmond, Oregon.