(This was originally written for Gathering Voices – The Thoughtful Christian Blog, a blog which I highly recommend you check out in the near future!)
Having grown up in a border city, it is safe to say that I know more (at least experientially) about the US/Mexico border than your average Midwesterner. So, when I went to our local ministerial association meeting this week (knowing that the topic was immigration and border issues), I was attending in order to be supportive of the presenters and the people affected by our immigration policies. I didn’t anticipate that I would learn much and I certainly didn’t expect to have my mind blown.
Luckily, a mindset tinged with arrogance is just rigid enough to be broken open…
There was lots of information presented that was new to me. I’m most familiar with the stretch of border that runs between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, but the presenters had attended a program in San Diego/Tijuana. The program, run through the Daniel F. Romero Center for Border Ministries, provides immersion opportunities in Tijuana as well as space/language for theological reflection about immigration and the economic disparity that exists between the US and Mexico.
The stories shared during our meeting piqued my interest and tugged at my heart, but for some reason what really got me was a single photograph of an official sign on the border. The sign reads: US Property – No Trespassing.
When I saw the sign, the word “trespassing” struck me like lightning. I’ve long been familiar with the language of the immigration debate: illegal, alien, undocumented, migrant, immigrant, and so on. I’ve heard the arguments back and forth – the position of scarcity (“those people are taking our jobs, our resources, our money”), the position of abundance and welcome (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”), the Hebrew Bible mandates for welcoming the stranger and caring for the alien (passages like Exodus 22:21-24 and Hebrews 13:2). But for some reason I’d never connected “illegal immigration” with trespassing.
Personally, I have always been more swayed by the position of abundance and those passages from the Hebrew Bible. In my mind, immigration and our treatment of “the other” has always been about justice and the dignity of all people as children of God, yet justice, dignity and abundance don’t seem to be values universally claimed by those who claim the name of Christ. Finding the language needed to explain myself to Christians who are passionately against undocumented immigrants has always been difficult for me – but now that I’ve seen that border sign, I think I’ve found another track, something so basic that all stripes of Christians know it in their bones: the Lord’s Prayer.
If, at its core, this immigration debate is about trespassing (as that official border sign asserts), then it makes sense that we followers of Christ would contemplate the issues and people involved in light of the prayer that he taught his followers. As a person committed to thoughtful Christianity, I won’t come down and say that you must come to the same conclusion to which I have come (I know my own tendency towards arrogance well enough to see the danger and hypocrisy in that). But I do hope that each Sunday, as we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we all might take a moment to meditate upon the lives of the undocumented immigrants who live amongst us – and use our holy imagination to contemplate what such forgiveness could look like if we (and they) were to live it out in the world.