Many of us are now familiar with the news of the cutting of services for detained migrants, the allegations of sexual assault against Border Patrol agents, and the deaths of migrants in these detention centers that has been circulating in recent days. These decisions provoke questions of conscience for US American Christians with the privilege of citizenship in this country. Especially now, we Christians who are citizens must be physically present on the border with México, that we might bear witness to the realities of what we experience alongside those who are most acutely affected by the policies of the current Administration. Whether it is in response to the call of our Scriptures, of formally recognized Christian leaders, of the examples of Christians in border communities who work to aid and to advocate for migrants, or some combination thereof, US American Christians must act in a way that bears witness to the injustices being perpetrated against our migrant kin. Bearing witness should include being present where migrants are present, listening to their stories, and building bridges into spaces to which migrants have no (or limited) access.
Passages from our sacred texts—in both the Old and the New Testaments—remind Christians of our accountability to our migrant kin, whom these texts call “strangers.” Deuteronomy 10:17-19 reads, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (NRSV), and Psalm 146:8-9 reminds us, “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow,but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (NRSV). Many Christians will also recall the story of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus fleeing the threat of violence against boy children in Matthew 2. For this reason, they sought refuge in Egypt. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we hear that Christians will be judged in a way that takes into account how we have treated the most marginalized among us in Matthew 25:31-45.
Through our meditation on passages like these, we see clearly that our migrant sisters, brothers, and sisters are dear to our God, who, in turn, calls on us to care for them.
Recognized leaders in our Christian traditions have spoken on the injustices occurring along our borders, advising actions of charity and of solidarity. The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness was part of a delegation to the US/México border last December and, in turn, is offering a webinar for those who would like to learn more about how to get involved in work on the part of our migrant brothers, sisters, and siblings. In addition, Pope Francis has offered this perspective on migrants: “Through them, the Lord is calling us to conversion, to be set free from exclusivity, indifference and the throw-away culture. Through them, the Lord invites us to embrace fully our Christian life and to contribute, each according to his or her proper vocation, to the building up of a world that is more and more in accord with God’s plan” (Vatican News). One finds a collection of his statements and homilies in Migrants and Refugees: Witnesses to Hope.
Just as significantly, local Christian leaders of groups on the ground are working with migrants not only to offer them much-needed basic services, but also to organize for more just policies. Organizations providing services to migrants include Casa Marianella (Austin, TX), Annunciation House (El Paso, TX), Angry Tías and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley (McAllen, TX), Sacred Heart Humanitarian Respite Center (McAllen, TX), Good Neighbor Resettlement House (Brownsville, TX), La Posada Providencia (San Benito, TX), and Senda de Vida (Reynosa, MX). Some of the groups advocating for policy change are HOPE Border Institute (El Paso, TX), the South Texas Human Rights Center (Falfurrias, TX), the PICO Network, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and No More Deaths. All of these organizations welcome donations and volunteers.
Further, these Christian leaders understand and act on the need to bear witness to the lived realities of our migrant kin. How might we join them in this work?
Be present where migrants are present. Many Christians have heard the saying often attributed to Karl Barth that we must read the Gospel in one hand and the newspaper in the other. While being informed about what is happening along the US/México border is an important first steps, Christians are called to go to the places where migrants are living, moving, and having their being, especially now. As the previous link shows, one encounters these detention centers across the United States. Like Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse, Zaachila Orozco-McCormick, and Scott Warren, some of us are called to be present to our migrant kin in ways that challenge the laws of states like Arizona. Others of us will be called to accompany our migrant sisters, brothers, and siblings differently, perhaps by volunteering with some of the organizations listed above. Whether our actions put us in the headlines of national news or not, Christians are called to be present to migrants in our local communities.
Listen to their stories. Once we have discerned to what actions we are called, we must listen to the stories of our migrant kin. For some US American Christians, that will involve learning Spanish. For others, that will involve learning some of the Indigenous languages of México, Guatemala, and Honduras, the nations from which many Latin American migrants come. For still others, that will involve relying on the work of a translator. With these skills and in these places, we are called not to speak, not to give advice, not to attempt to solve problems often beyond our immediate experience or areas of expertise, but rather, to listen to migrants in our midst.
Build bridges between new migrants and the communities to which you belong. Doing so can involve (1) making space for migrants to tell their stories—as they see fit—in the communities to which we belong and (2) with permission, using our own voices to amplify the stories we hear in our churches and in our local legislatures. Some communities will welcome our migrant kin to speak, whereas they will not have access to others. In the latter case, US American Christians must tell the stories of our migrant sisters, brothers, and siblings in ways that advocate for just practices, teachings, and policies in our schools, in our churches, and in places of government.