The headline was shocking yet predictable: "Rushed From Haiti, Then Jailed for Lacking Visas" (<http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/us/01detain.html>). In a country where immigrants are often scorned and where the government's focus is on enforcement and detention, it is profoundly sad--but not surprising--that more than 30 Haitian earthquake survivors wound up in an immigration detention facility in Florida.
Due to the diligence of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center and law students from across the country, the survivors were released, after spending more than two months behind bars (<http://www.fiacfla.org/pressreleases.php#227>).
That same week, a Washington Post story revealed that U.S. immigration authorities have set quotas for detaining and deporting non-criminal immigrants. Although the Obama administration has repeatedly pledged to aim enforcement efforts at immigrants who commit serious crimes, a recent memo detailed a goal of 400,000 deportations per year and cited the need for expanding detention space (<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/26/AR2010032604891.html>).
On any given day, there is an average of 33,400 people in immigration detention centers across the U.S., most in facilities run by private contractors. Numerous news stories in recent years have detailed the lack of adequate medical and mental health services and a number of preventable deaths.
Thousands of families are broken up each year by immigration raids. I recently heard an anecdote of a child visiting a congressional office who asked the question, "As a U.S. citizen, do I have the right to be raised by both my parents?" Sadly, the answer is no. Too many children have endured the trauma of having one or both parents dragged off by immigration officials.
We justify these actions by saying we only want people to follow the laws of the land, that we seek merely to keep those out who are here "illegally." Any hint of compassion for undocumented persons is met with scorn for being "amnesty for lawbreakers."
As Christians, however, we answer to a higher law. The law Jesus spoke of would not justify tearing parents from children or throwing earthquake survivors in jail. Jesus modeled a different way. He modeled a love that is easy to talk about, but hard to follow.
The 2009 statement on immigration from the National Association of Evangelicals (<http://www.nae.net/resolutions/347-immigration-2009>) states that, "The Bible contains many accounts of God's people who were forced to migrate due to hunger, war, or personal circumstances... An appreciation of the pervasiveness of migration in the Bible must temper the tendency to limit discussions on immigration to Romans 13 and a simplistic defense of 'the rule of law'... policies must be evaluated to reflect that immigrants are made in the image of God and demonstrate biblical grace to the foreigner." (A Mennonite Church USA resolution on immigration is also available online at <http://peace.mennolink.org/resources/immigrationletter_eng.pdf>.)
Contact the Obama administration and urge them to act with grace and compassion toward the immigrants in our midst. Then, call on your legislators in Congress to fix our broken immigration system in a way that creates just and fair rules, promotes family unity, and addresses the root causes of migration.
For more information, visit <http://washington.mcc.org/issues/immigration>.