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Policies needed to protect the persecuted

I spoke with a friend of mine, someone I have known since college, today. He has worked in law enforcement and with the immigrant population a lot.

In our few sentences shared, he mentioned the convoy of immigrants making their way to our border, asking my opinion. In brief, my opinion is that the United States has had a broken immigration system for as long as we have had one, and many of these refugees and asylum seekers are only coming our way, because our broken foreign policy (with armed military interventions in many of their countries of origin) has destabilized things along with the drug cartels feeding a US habit, forcing them to flee.

Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Our scriptures also remind us that all people have dignity and value as bearers of God’s image. We are bound to our neighbors – including our neighbors who are immigrants and refugees – as one body.

Thinking about the migrants coming here from the south, my mind went back to a group of deer that I constantly see coming to my backyard in the morning. They are as shy as they are beautiful. And the similarities between their plight and people forced to flee their homes inspired me to write a poem. Like deer who flee hunters and scavenge for needed resources:

“This family of deer in the dawn light

Braved a devilish highway coming,

But did so only because it was safer

Than the hell they left behind at home.”

People who have come seeking asylum have been separated from their children, detained in for-profit detention centers, criminalized, prosecuted and deported. Now administration officials and certain members of Congress are proposing to indefinitely detain families that are seeking asylum while attempting to drastically cut the family reunification system. At the heart of our faiths is the shared belief that the family is sacred, no matter where you’re from. Our policies should respect that.

As a Methodist pastor, I am troubled by the president’s treatment of our immigrant brothers and sisters, and I believe that recent immigration issues need to be met by people of faith with compassion and open hearts. We need a robust refugee resettlement program, policies that keep families together, and we must address the root causes of why people are migrating from Latin America to the United States.

 

Rev. Jason Villegas is pastor of Murfreesboro United Methodist Church and directs the Task Force on Immigration of the NC Conference of the United Methodist Church.