Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Treat Them as Your Native Born

By Emily Kvalheim*

At South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors, I have been receiving more and more desperate phone calls from people who are deeply afraid. So many people in Miami-Dade County need free immigration legal assistance, but every nonprofit in the area is overbooked and unable to accept most new cases on a long-term basis.

These desperate calls were a result of three immigration-related executive orders signed by the new president of the United States, Donald Trump. I am by no means an expert, but the executive orders essentially called for the completion of a southern border wall, the end of federal funding to sanctuary cities, put all 11 million undocumented people in the United States at greater risk for deportation, and banned immigrants from seven Muslim countries.

IMG_2012.JPGMigrant workers in the fields of south Florida. PHOTO: COURTESY SOUTH FLORIDA JFON

To make matters worse, in January, Mayor Gimenez of Miami announced that “Miami-Dade County would not fight the President’s [sanctuary city] order, which demands local law enforcement work with federal immigration officials when it comes to turning over illegal immigrants when they have been arrested.” (Arrested, but not necessarily convicted.) Miami-Dade commissioners upheld this decision in February this year.

No Legal Remedies

Almost everyone, it seems, is afraid of something, either for oneself or for another loved one: the US Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, repercussions for driving without a license (something that is out of reach for undocumented immigrants living in Florida), racial profiling, rough treatment by ICE officers, calling the police to report a crime or in situations of domestic violence (for fear of deportation), deportation, facing the nightmares fled in home countries.

As part of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees’ volunteer program, I recently visited a couple of immigrants who were being detained inside the Krome Service Processing Center. During that visit, I learned that we were seeing the first Cubans being detained as a result of President Obama’s decision in January 2017 to end the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy.

In February 2017, I read an article by the Associated Press that said 680 Cubans had already been returned home since the end of that policy. Maybe “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” was only put into place all those years ago to make Cuba look bad. Maybe it was unfair to allow Cubans to become Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) after a year, while people from many other immigrant groups struggle and, as a whole, often have no legal remedies in the United States, at least from what I’ve seen. But, both as an American and as a Christian, I find myself growing increasingly frustrated whenever we make it more difficult for immigrants to come to the United States.

From a Place of Love

As an American, I remember that my great-grandfather immigrated to the United States illegally from Norway. I remember that we live on land stolen from many indigenous peoples. I remember that I did absolutely nothing to become an American. There is no “American culture.” There is no national language. There is no government-sanctioned religious persecution. There is only the American dream, community, and a hope for a better tomorrow. And that, to me, makes America great. Our diversity makes America great. Immigrants make America great. We will forever be stronger together, and keeping people out or holding people back will only lead to a less bright future for us all. We must choose to lead from a place of love together and not from a place of fear alone.

As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is pretty clear that we should welcome the stranger and the refugee: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

Grace Haitian.jpgEmily Kvalheim meets with a Haitian client at the South Florida JFON office.
PHOTO: COURTESY SOUTH FLORIDA JFON

It has been such a blessing to work with our clients as we navigate the immigration system together. They have taught me so much about life and about resilience. I hope everyone who reads this has a similar opportunity to learn from immigrants in her community. And who knows? Maybe if you take a risk and show hospitality to a stranger, you may even end up entertaining angels without realizing it.

*Emily Kvalheim (Advance #3022060) served as a Global Mission Fellow US-2 from 2015 to July 2017 with the South Florida Justice for Our Neighbors agency in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Originally from Westerville, Ohio, she earned a B. A. degree in Political Science and International Studies from American University in Washington, DC.

Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Summer 2017 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.