Voices: Justice for immigrants and refugees seldom seen

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EDITOR’S NOTE: “Justice looks like …” is a special series in the Voices column. Readers will have the opportunity to consider justice from numerous viewpoints. The series is based on each writer’s understanding of Scripture and relationship with Jesus Christ. Writers present their own views independent of any institution, unless otherwise noted in their bios.

You are encouraged to listen to each writer without prejudgment. Then, engage in conversation with others around you about what justice looks like to you.

Click here for more information about the series. Click here to read the full “Justice looks like…” series. 

Justice looks like parents crying tears of joy because they no longer worry about daughters raped and sons conscripted into organized crime. It looks like the smile of a teacher realizing no one will kill her for helping someone learn to read.

Justice looks like the hands of a laborer who can provide for her family again. It looks like a head bowed in prayer, now free to follow the dictates of conscience.

Unfortunately, justice like this is difficult to glimpse—much less view in fullness—these days.

Justice looks like immigrants to the United States—allowed to seek asylum here because ours is a nation of immigrants. It looks like refugees who never intended to seek shelter within our borders, people who love their homelands. It looks like victims who fled extortion, rape and murder.

Justice looks like bodies descended from generations of farmers, whose livelihoods have been decimated by climate change. It looks like the worn knees of people who prayed long and hard before they fled to America. Justice looks like the happy faces of full-bellied children, safe beside their mamas and papas.

Looking harder for justice

You don’t see justice like this as often as you used to. U.S. government policy pushes it away. Once, people whose love for family compelled them to flee their homes could seek refuge in this country. They arrived legally, asking only to state their cases, receive fair hearings and be granted asylum—safety, opportunity, justice.

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In January 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols—known as “Remain in Mexico.” The policy requires non-Mexican immigrants seeking asylum to wait out the process in Mexico, confined to some of the most dangerous cities in North America.

To make matters worse, U.S. immigration officers’ jobs changed. They switched from seeking to understand asylum seekers’ stories—often involving abuse, oppression and terror—to looking for the tiniest technical reason to thwart the asylum process. To slam shut the door of safety, opportunity, justice.

Injustice looks like mischaracterizing others

Asylum seekers have been maligned as rapists, thugs, gang members and opportunists—people who want to come to the United States illegally, freeload off our country and take Americans’ jobs. While the thousands of people who seek U.S. asylum may include a miniscule number of immigrants with malevolent intent, this is an outright lie about almost all the refugees seeking entrance into “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

They already are brave, and they seek freedom. What but love and courage would compel parents to uproot young families and leave home for a shot at living in a strange land?

The organization I lead, Fellowship Southwest, works alongside pastors all along the U.S.-Mexico border to provide food and shelter to asylum seekers who remain in Mexico. We know them. We know their stories. All things being equal, they would not have left their homelands unless they felt it were absolutely necessary.

Reasons for seeking asylum

They seek U.S. asylum for various reasons, including:

• Gangs—organized criminals—rule their countries. Mothers bring their children, because daughters have been raped and sons killed for refusing to join the gangs. Fathers bring their families, because wonton violence has made providing for and protecting them impossible back home.

• Extreme poverty has made even mere subsistence impossible in their homelands. This isn’t about greed and wanting bigger and better. Thousands of refugees come from families who have lived on and worked the land for generations. Agricultural degradation caused by climate change has robbed them of that privilege. They left so they could work even menial jobs to raise their children.

• Persecution has pushed them out. Some refugees come here because their minority religious faith has made them targets of abuse. Some come because their love for democracy has caused them to be considered “enemies” of their own countries. Some have been industrious, and their success—financially minor by U.S. standards—made them victims of extortion.

These are decent, hard-working, kind people. Their industry and courage and belief in our country will translate not only into safety and security for themselves, but into a stronger, braver, more resilient America.

The prophets taught us to care for and protect the stranger. Jesus said we demonstrate our love for him by how we treat “the least of these.” If we do not seek immigration reform and a fair and open asylum process, we turn blind eyes toward justice.

Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, a multicultural, ecumenical Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network across Arizona, New Mexico, northern Mexico, Oklahoma, Southern California and Texas. He was editor of the Baptist Standard from 1999 to 2017.

Click here to read the full “Justice looks like…” series.

We seek to inform, inspire and challenge you to live like Jesus. Click to learn more about Following Jesus.

If we achieved our goal—or didn’t—we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to Eric Black, our editor. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.

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