While in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, we met with two activists who are working on immigration issues. One of them was born in Mexico, but her family moved to Phoenix when she was an adolescent. (I’m guessing she’s now in her late 20s.) She has qualified for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which grants her safety from deportation for another couple of years anyway. The question came up, as it inevitably does, as to why not just come into the country legally? Why not just follow the rules? Two responses were shared in answer to that question.
The first response was a story about a man in Juarez, Mexico, who applied for a green card in 1998. He’s still waiting. We didn’t get any more detail about this individual, but 19 years is a long time. If you want to move to the US so you can raise your children here, 19 years is too long. If you wanted to move here to work, the kind of work one might be able to do changes in 19 years. What one might’ve been qualified to do in 1998 may or may not be something you can do in 2017. Could you put your life on hold for 19 years while you wait to find out whether you’re going to be given a green card?
The second response was a personal testimony shared with us by the Mexican-American woman. She said that she went back to Mexico City and visited her childhood home. She put her hands on the wall, and felt strange. It no longer felt like home to her. Phoenix had become her home. As she teared up, she said, “Immigration means the right to choose where home is.”
The right to immigrate is the right to choose where home is.
The US is a big country, so if we want to choose where home is, we have a lot of options before we have to deal with immigration issues. But for most of human history, people have been able to make that choice, regardless of borders. We might have had to follow food, water, or resources, or we may have moved seasonally to avoid harsh summers or cold winters. (Some of us still do that!) It’s only in the last few hundred years that we’ve had an expectation of people staying put.
I know there are complex economic issues involved in letting people choose where home is, including availability of housing, jobs, schools, etc. But those issues change all the time as people move within a country. Why should people moving into a city from a different country be any different from moving into a city from a different state? Both families need the same things—housing, schools, jobs, etc.
The world is richer when we practice hospitality, when we welcome people from different places. We learn from each other. We grow wiser, we grow more sensitive. And when we start seeing strangers as blessings, and stop seeing them as threats, we just might realize we’re welcoming angels unawares.
Grace and peace,