As a U.S. citizen, I understand the difficulties and strain of having millions of undocumented people crossing our border.
But I’ve also seen the faces of illegal immigration in my own neighborhood. I have worked in the Hispanic and outreach ministries of the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn. Our community has a large Latino population, and our church reaches out with free English as a Second Language classes and Bible studies. We provide Spanish interpretation during our worship services.
I have traveled to Nicaragua, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras and seen poverty there firsthand — and the hopeless look in the eyes of parents. I understand why they want a better life for their children — and that they would do anything to get it.
As a Christian, I feel empathy and love for them.
There are an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented Hispanics living in the U.S., though that number is hard to verify. And a year-long surge has brought about 63,000 unaccompanied children — fleeing gangs and violence in their Central American homelands — into the U.S., causing terrible stress on our legal system, costing untold millions of dollars.
How do I reconcile loving my undocumented neighbors and upholding the law?
says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Yet Romans 13
says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God,” and “whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
And, in Matthew 22
, Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
What is disturbing to me is that, often, we have the same response to the immigration problem as people who are not believers. We are so busy stating that we need to retain our way of life that we forget who has given all of us life.
When the issue of the added costs to schools and hospitals is brought up, we often back that up by reciting Romans 13. Although these are real issues, where is the love and the compassion we see in the life of Jesus as we try to find answers?
Jesus associated with people who were on the fringe, outcasts. He sat with sinners. These were often-marginalized people because of their behavior as well as their physical condition.
So many undocumented workers live on the edge of poverty, with little legal protection, and often are the victims of others’ greed. They may be viewed as lepers or outcasts. By excluding them, we are missing out on fellowship, friendship and the opportunity to show them compassion.
As Americans, we are concerned for the laws of our land and the wellbeing of our nation. We are frustrated and angry that many immigrants have illegally entered our country.
Yet, as citizens of heaven, we are deeply concerned for the wellbeing of these same people — who work in our neighborhoods and send their children to school alongside ours.
I pray for a new reality. I want to see a world where the people of Latin America can be fruitful and fulfilled in their home countries. Latin America can be a place where people have enough to eat, have no need to fear their own police and can receive a good education.
Yes, this is a huge goal — even idealistic — and it may seem impossible to accomplish. But the Word of God tells me that all things are possible in Christ. I believe that includes social reform.
Meanwhile, I maintain very specific boundaries as I interact with undocumented immigrants. I will never help anyone enter our country illegally. I will not lie for anyone.
But I do whatever I can to lawfully help any person who is marginalized in our society. I help undocumented persons get their documents. I sponsor people for citizenship. I help them find Christian lawyers.
Through it all, I try to share the Gospel with them and show them the love of Jesus — with words and actions. I want to spend eternity with my new brothers and sisters. That’s right. Many of these undocumented workers are now my brothers and sisters in Christ. We are family.
I pray that one day I will stand before God and know that I tried to show compassion and mercy to others, regardless of their legal status.
LISA STEELE is assistant dean of student life and director of intercultural development and Latino student services for Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.