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“I was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me”

We’re going to have some explaining to do come judgement day when St. Peter greets us at the pearly gates asking us about all the walls we built fearing strangers. Jesus was clear.  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  (Matthew 25)

The last three decades have seen more and more punitive federal immigration laws.  Mass incarceration of undocumented people is epidemic. “Build the wall” is a common nefarious refrain on the lips even of many who claim to follow Jesus.

Twenty thousand ICE employees and more than 400 field offices are enforcing laws written and passed by representatives in Washington on our behalf. Each day brings another story of family separation, a parent taken without warning by ICE officers and sent out of the country leaving behind spouse and children.

65.6 million people are currently homeless; 22.5 million are refugees; over half are people under age 18. Conflict and persecution displaces 20 people every minute. (UNHCR, UN Refugee Agency figures)

Immigration enforcement and detention have increased substantially. The Immigration and Custom Enforcement budget has increased tenfold over the last 25 years. ICE arrests are increasingly for non-violent or non-criminal activity, diverting resources from serious criminal activity. A NYTimes/CBS poll in 2015 reported Americans are more fearful now than following the attacks on 9/11. We are ignoring President Roosevelts sage advice: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Dignity is seldom afforded to recent immigrants even by Christians whose faith claims all are created in the image of God.

Christian witness is needed now more than ever.

Two years ago in response to the refugee crisis, the ELCA formed AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities), to protect children forced to flee their homes because of chronic violence, poverty, environmental displacement and lack of opportunity. But unfounded fears are driving too much of our nation’s response to this crisis.

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  (James 2:14-17)

Pray, we must, for the needs of our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters living in fear, turmoil and disruption. We must pray for a change of heart in those ruled by fear.

Contribute financially to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Since 1939, our Lutheran churches have welcome more than 379,000 refugees to the United States.  Make a monthly financial pledge to their important work on our behalf.

Write to our federal legislators asking them not to spend billions of dollars on a border wall, a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem and an environmental debacle. Focus resources instead on accountability and existing enforcement.

Call on federal legislators and the administration to fix the broken US immigration system and begin the fix by protecting immigrants who arrived before they were 18, those whose only home has been the United States.

Hire a refugee, give a refugee or immigrant a chance; volunteer with RefugeeOne or AMMPARO.

Proclaim Jesus’ message of welcome. Let friends, neighbors and government officials know that our Christian faith expects, even demands of us that we welcome strangers, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Talk of immigration is a quick way to rile a crowd. Counter uninformed prejudices with a report issued by the US Chamber of Commerce in 2013 addressing immigration myths: 1) Immigrants typically do not compete for jobs with native born workers, immigrants create jobs as entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers. 2) Immigrants give a slight boost to the average wages of Americans by increasing their productivity and stimulating investments. 3) Immigrants will replenish the U.S.labor force as millions of Baby Boomers retire. 4) Temporary workers from abroad fill specialized needs in specific sectors of the U.S. economy. 5) Job openings are expanding at educational levels where demographic data show too few native-born students. 6) Immigrants have economically revitalized many communities throughout the country. 7) Undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year. 8) Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal public benefit programs and even legal immigrants face stringent eligibility restrictions. 9) Today’s immigrants are buying homes, becoming U.S. citizens and learning English. 10) Immigration does not cause crime rates to rise, immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars that native-born Americans. 11) Immigration reform is an integral part of an effective border security strategy.

A Prayer for Refugees
Almighty and merciful God, whose Son became a refugee and had no place to call his own; look with mercy on those who today are fleeing from danger, homeless and hungry.

Bless those who work to bring them relief; inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts; and guide the nations of the world towards that day when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.