The story of Jesus’ birth and how his wandering family finally found refuge in a barn, among animals and gathering shepherds, carries a strong message for the United States today.
It tells us that providing hospitality to those in need can bring unexpected blessings. It also reminds us of our values as members of faith communities.
Sadly, the Trump administration is tearing families apart and deporting immigrants who constitute absolutely no threat to their local communities. I have heard from immigrants directly about the high levels of fear they experience due to Trump’s rhetoric and stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws.
While the number of deportations has declined since Trump took office, the number of people being arrested on immigration-related charges has soared. A recent study from Human Rights Watch found immigration arrests in the interior of the country, as opposed to at the border, increased 42 percent in the first seven months of the Trump administration over the same period last year. Most disturbing is that the number of interior arrests of immigrants who have no criminal record has nearly tripled.
Many of these people are longtime U.S. residents with spouses and children who are U.S. citizens. They are valued members of churches throughout the land. In response, people of faith across the United States are springing into action to provide refuge to immigrants. Here are a few examples:
• In the hurricane-ravaged areas of south Texas and Florida, faith communities are serving people in need, offering help especially to undocumented immigrants who are unable to qualify for government assistance because of their legal status.
• Lawyers with Justice for Our Neighbors, a Methodist ministry, have helped DACA-qualified students apply and renew their applications for DACA, worked to get refugees to apply for asylum, and sought to protect immigrants facing violence to apply for a specific visa so that they can remain legally in the United States. The group often works out of churches in immigrant neighborhoods.
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• The sanctuary movement is growing steadily among faith communities as more and more houses of worship are taking in undocumented families and shielding them from arrest and deportation.
Although governments have broad discretion to regulate migration, they also must weigh the impact of deportations on the rights of immigrants. The U.S. immigration system in most cases gives no airing or weight to immigrants’ ties to home and family. As members of our communities and congregations, Christians should demand that these rights be respected.
Thus, as Christians in this Advent season await the birthday of a baby who set about to set captives free, it is imperative for all Christians to resist the Trump administration’s draconian policies toward immigrants. This is what Advent is all about.
• Bill Mefford is a faith leader in the United Methodist Church and leads a grass-roots faith collective, the Fig Tree Revolution