“Don’t deport my dad.” That is the slogan many immigrant rights groups will be using on Father’s Day this year. It follows the “Don’t deport my mom” slogans used in May.
But, some say, we live in a country with the rule of law. Undocumented immigrants who are breaking laws should suffer the consequences. Right?
Yes, there are consequences to violating a law. But the consequence should fit the crime.
When a mother of small children who poses no threat to her community is deported because she misfiled an immigration form, is that justice? What about the young man who was brought to the U.S. as a baby more than 20 years ago and now has small children of his own?
Or, when a mother of four puts a false Social Security number on a utility application to get the heat turned on in her apartment, should she be put in jail and deported? Is that the appropriate consequence? Or when a young man risks his life crossing the desert to feed his family, should he then be put in prison for 20 years?
It is easy to judge the “lawbreakers” and say, “They got what they deserved.” Undocumented immigrants are often judged harshly for breaking the law, but we forget that restrictive immigration laws were not even on the books when many of our ancestors came to this country.
Worse, we do not judge ourselves as harshly for breaking God’s laws: welcome the stranger; never forget that you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I was a stranger and you welcomed me. In dozens of places in the Bible we are admonished to treat immigrants with kindness and dignity, and yet we often break those laws.
Each of the examples above represents a real person with a complex story. The reasons a person becomes undocumented or risks crossing the desert are varied and complicated.
And what about the children left behind? Who is looking out for justice for them?
Currently more than 4 million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent. For these children, “Don’t deport my mom,” and, “Don’t deport my dad,” are more than words in a slogan. They represent a daily, gripping fear that Mom or Dad might not be there tomorrow. In the past few years, more than 5,000 of these children have been put into foster care because one or both of their parents was deported.
And what about the young man who crossed the desert to get to the U.S.? We call him a criminal. But what law would you break to feed your family?
In Genesis, we read about Abraham and Sarah lying about their identity when they were immigrants escaping a famine. Abraham and Sarah are lifted up as heroes. European immigrant ancestors are also called heroes for doing hard things to provide for their families. But the mother who lied on her utility application is called a criminal, taken away from her children and put in jail.
Biblical and Anabaptist history is rich with stories of migration, of immigrants being helped by strangers in a new land. We, too, have an opportunity to help the newcomers in our own communities, whether by teaching English as a Second Language classes, helping an immigrant with documentation paperwork or urging Congress to pass a just and humane immigration reform bill. Never forget, you, too, were immigrants (Ex. 22:21).
Tammy Alexander is senior legislative associate in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.