MCC U.S. guide to immigration Four pages of issue overview, biblical reflection, action steps and resources for further study. Available in print from the Washington Office. Biblical Reflections and Church Responses Standing with Immigrants Since its inception in 1920, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has responded to the needs of emigrating peoples through material aid and spiritual support. As an agency of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches of North America, which began as immigrant churches, MCC recognizes the special needs of immigrants. Scripture teaches us that "when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do [the stranger] wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love [the stranger] as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt . . ." (Leviticus 19:33,34). We believe that God calls us to be accepting of immigrants, because we, too, are sojourners (Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 24:17,18). By welcoming the stranger we have welcomed Jesus (Matthew 25:35). Because of God's clear call, we believe we must respond to the plight of immigrants in the United States. The recent implementation of the 1996 immigration and welfare reform laws brings our attention to U.S. policy toward immigrants . . . Many of our brothers and sisters who attend our churches are affected by the new laws . . . Communities are disrupted as the U.S. government implements increasingly harsh and sometimes violent methods to enforce laws and secure the U.S.-Mexico boarder. In light of these actions against immigrants, we reject our government's mistreatment and scapegoating of our immigrant brothers and sisters. At the same time, we recognize and regret our silence on these issues which contribute to human rights violations of our brothers and sisters. We feel the call to act on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters who are in need, whether documented or undocumented, just as God calls the Israelites to do in scripture. While working to prevent the need for emigration . . . we recognize that many people must still make the tough decision to leave their homes. We also acknowledge that since the United States controls more resources than any other country, it is inevitable that people will choose to immigrate here in search of financial stability. Because of our abundant wealth, much is expected of us. We must be willing to stand with the immigrants in our midst. Immigration Policy in the Border Region Immigration policy at the southern border is endangering the lives and liberties of migrants who provide the labor upon which the U.S. economy depends. Enforcement in border cities forces migration toward remote areas where water and shade are scarce. The heat in these desert areas can be deadly . . . The policy of attempting to close off the southern border has not addressed the root causes of migration, and has caused further deterioration of human rights for undocumented people and border residents. The Federal government must take the opportunity to look at long-term solutions that will consider structural, economic, and historic causes of migration. The following responses may move toward de-escalating the tension and violence in border communities: • Recognize the international economic trends that increase poverty in Mexico and Central America and thus encourage immigration. • Stop the escalation of agents and weapons along the border and design a more humane and relevant response to economic migration. • Provide amnesty for current residents without documents and increase opportunities for legal immigration. This will meet U.S. employment needs without risking undocumented employees' legal rights. • Free trade has created unrestricted movement of goods and capital but has not allowed the same freedom to workers, thereby putting workers' rights at risk. Given this reality, we question whether it is appropriate to criminalize the movement of people. • Humanitarian gestures such as giving water, food or automobile rides for undocumented people should not be considered criminal activities. The three legal consequences for aiding migrants increase fear and suspicion among the residents of border communities. • Create an independent forum for observing the human rights violations of migrant people by vigilantes and the Border Patrol. Excerpted from MCC U.S. Executive Committee statement, "Standing With Immigrants" (September 19, 1998), and the MCC U.S. Board's "Statement on INS policy in the Border Region" (July 8, 2000). When Does Obeying God Call for Disobeying Governing Authorities? A Biblical Reflection The Bible challenges us to accept (I Peter 2:13), pray for (I Timothy 2:1) and be subject to (Romans 13:1) governing authorities. But there are also many Bible stories where God's people disobeyed the governing authorities in order to faithfully obey God. • Shiphrah and Puah, Hebrew midwives, risked their lives by refusing Pharaoh's order to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. God blessed them for their faithfulness (Exodus 1:15-22). • Three youth -- Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego -- were thrown into a fiery furnace for disobeying the king's order to bow down and worship his 90-foot golden statue (Daniel 3). • Daniel was thrown into a lion's den when he continued praying to God even after King Darius ordered his subjects to pray only to the king (Daniel 6). • Esther broke the law by appearing before King Ahasuerus in order to plead for the safety of the Hebrew people (Esther 4-8). • The Apostles declared, "We must obey God rather than any human authority," when the Council ordered them to stop speaking about Jesus (Acts 5:29). Principles. How do we reconcile these stories of "civil disobedience" with the biblical command to be subject to governing authorities? What principles might we glean as we read all these texts together? • The norm is to obey the law. Breaking the law is not something to be taken lightly. Paul writes that the government's authority comes from God and, therefore, "whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed" (Romans 13:2). The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective says, "governing authorities . . . have been instituted by God for maintaining order." While God ordains the institution of government, God does not ordain specific governments. • Sometimes governing authorities overstep their role. God gives governing authorities the mandate to uphold good and punish bad conduct. But sometimes governing authorities abuse their role. The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective states, "Governing authorities tend to demand total allegiance. They then become idolatrous and rebellious against the will of God." Pharaoh exceeded his God-given authority when he ordered Hebrew babies killed (Exodus 1:16). King Nebuchadnezzar overstepped his authority when he required everyone to worship his golden statute (Daniel 3:6,15). The Council surpassed its jurisdiction by demanding the Apostles "not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18). • Sometimes obeying God may require us to disobey the law. Christians must make prayerful choices about breaking laws that: o call us to harm others (Hebrew midwives). o block us from efforts to protect life (Esther). o prevent us from worshiping only God or witnessing to God's love (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel, the Apostles). Anabaptist Applications. Some Anabaptists have chosen not to obey certain U.S. laws that are inconsistent with these principles or are otherwise contrary to Jesus' teachings. For example, even before the law made provision for conscientious objectors to do alternative service, many Anabaptists refused to serve in the military. Today, some Anabaptist youth choose not to register with Selective Service because they feel that even this is cooperating with the military system. Others choose not to pay the military portion of their tax. Some Anabaptists have chosen to house or hire undocumented immigrants even though it is not legal to do so. Solidarity. As we have sought ways to stand together in the strong solidarity of the body of Christ, we have found "For in the one Spirit we that there are few legal strategies that can prevent the were all baptized into one dismembering of the body. We who have gathered are clear body Jews or Greeks, that our first loyalty is to God and our Christian brothers slaves or free and we were and sisters, even if that may cause us to violate immigration all made to drink of one laws. . . . Some of the actions we are considering are: spirit . . . But God has so arranged the body . . . that . • Congregations could adopt immigrant families, . . the members may have either legal or illegal, to enter into real relationships the same care for one with them and share the struggle of our threatened another. If one member brothers and sisters. suffers, all suffer together • Congregations could recognize the realities of with it; if one member is subsistence for immigrant brothers and sisters and honored, all rejoice choose to hire -- or encourage their employer together with it. Now you members to hire -- "illegals," choosing to obey God are the body of Christ and rather than the dictates of our government; individually members of • When families of our brothers and sisters are it." I Corinthians 12 separated by INS officials, congregations could engage in mutual aid to sustain them. From a statement signed by 27 participants at the Anabaptist Immigration Conference, May 5, 1997, Chicago, IL Faith That Reflects, Faith That Acts Reflection Steps Reflect on the Bible texts in the box below. What do these verses tell us about God's concern for immigrants and other vulnerable people? The Bible stories above give numerous examples of governing authorities overstepping their God-granted role. In what ways, if any, do you believe that current U.S. immigration laws and policies overstep the role that God intends for government? What are the strongest arguments in favor of churches offering shelter, assistance, and jobs to persons who are undocumented — persons who are "illegal aliens" in the eyes of the law? When does Christ's call for us to "love neighbor as self" put us at odds with the law of the land? What guidance can you glean from the principles outlined in the biblical reflection above? Action Steps. Consider one or more of the following: Biblical Texts for 1. Educate yourself. Become informed about issues Additional Study affecting immigrants by reading newspapers and magazines. Exodus 23:9 2. Join a group. Become a member of a national Leviticus 19:33-34 immigrant rights organization. Deuteronomy 24:14-22; 3. Practice hospitality. Help create a climate of hospitality 27:19 for immigrants in your community by: Jeremiah 22:3 • Speaking out against nativism and the xenophobic scapegoating of immigrants. Matthew 25:31-46 • Putting a human face on the newcomers in your community (e.g., help them share their stories, accomplishments and contributions with your church, local newspapers, clubs, etc.). • Offering your church facilities and volunteers to local organizations for English classes, ethnic community celebrations, or outreach programs identified as a need in your community. • Offering shelter, assistance and jobs -- even to undocumented immigrants. 4. Community education. Organize discussion groups and forums on immigration issues in your church. 5. Advocate. Become an advocate for fair and humane policies for immigrants and asylum seekers on the local, state and national level by: • Keeping abreast of immigration legislation through MCC's Washington Office or MCC's Immigration Office in Akron. • Contacting your local, state, and national elected officials, telling them of your concern that immigrants are treated fairly, with dignity and respect. • Inviting elected officials to your church during ethnic celebrations. • Taking refugees or asylum seekers to your representative's office to tell their own story. • Joining national campaigns on specific immigration issues publicized by one of MCC's offices or other immigrant rights organizations. 6. Dig deeper. Explore root causes of why people immigrate by organizing fact-finding missions and study tours to troubled areas such as the U.S.-Mexican border, refugee camps, jails and prisons where asylum seekers are detained in your community. Immigration Facts and Figures Immigration Resources Immigrants add about $10 billion each year to the Organizations U.S. economy. Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Immigration Office Immigrant households paid an estimated $133 billion Amnesty International in direct taxes to federal, state, and local Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services governments in 1997. National Council of La Raza Businesses started by immigrants add at least The National Immigration Forum another $29 billion to the total taxes paid by Videos immigrants. "Between Two Worlds." A 12-minute video produced by Roughly 17.5 million West Coast MCC that chronicles why people choose to immigrants in the U.S. leave their homelands and journey to the U.S. Describes the today had their education difficulties new immigrants face and challenges the viewer paid for by their home to respond with Christian compassion. country a $1.43 trillion human capital windfall for "Beyond the News: Immigration." A 54-minute video U.S. taxpayers. produced by Mennonite Media. Six discussion segments: the border, economics, the working immigrant, political Immigrants who become asylum, resettlement and "from fear to dreams." U.S. citizens typically pay more in taxes than do Packets native-born Americans. "Welcoming the Newcomer: Doing Advocacy with Source: National Immigrants." For individuals and congregations seeking Immigration Forum to welcome immigrants in their communities. "Immigration Information Packet."General information on immigration law for newcomers seeking advocacy or referral. Available in English and Spanish.
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