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Speaker appeals to faith in dealing with immigration issue, but leaves out policy analysis

January 8, 2013

Earlier today I went to Calvin College to hear Jenny Yang, Director of Advocacy and Policy of the Refugee and Immigration Program at World Relief, as part of the January Series.

Her work on the immigration issue came to the forefront about six years ago, when World Relief began to get numerous requests from pastors across the country who were looking for insight on how to respond to the growing number of undocumented immigrants in their congregations.lamarch200-0ce22589d704b00757c6618de853b91923c48d6a-s2

Yang realized during this time that every conversation she had or heard about immigration, especially with Christians, was not based in Christian scriptures. Immigration is a biblical issue, a church issue and a missional issue, according to Yang and spent most of her talk discussing immigration through a biblical/theological lens.

It was understandable that Yang would focus on this issue from a Christian perspective, considering it is a lecture series at Calvin. Yang provided biblical examples of how immigrants are portrayed and what messages are communicated about them. She stated that immigrants are one of the core vulnerable populations that, along with widows and orphans, must be embraced and advocated for.

Then there is the question of following the “rule of law.” Since many people come to the US without documentation, how do people of faith respond in this context? Yang made the point that following the laws of the land are a biblical mandate, but that depends on whether or not the laws actually serve the greater good.

Yang then shared some survey statistics and said that about 88% of Americans who are likely to oppose new immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, are White Evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, the speaker did not address why the greatest resistance is from the Christian community.

Yang did not address the fact that one of the main topics addressed on talk radio is immigration, especially from the reactionary right perspective, with radio personalities like Michael Savage, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh regularly attacking immigrants on their shows, as is well documented in the book by Rory O’Connor, Shock Jocks.

Yang also did not mention or identify the numerous anti-immigration groups in the US, which are well funded and politically powerful.

The speaker did look at some US immigration history, by talking about the Chinese Exclusion Act as the first immigration policy. It was followed by the National Origins Act, which limited where immigrants could come from, making European immigrants the favor group. However, she never really provided much information on current immigration policy other than to say that there seem to be two broad policy approaches. Some people want all undocumented immigrants rounded up and deported, while other groups want to give amnesty to those who are here without documentation. Yang says she didn’t agree with either approach.

Yang believes that the US should: 1) make it harder for undocumented people to enter the country illegally; 2) Make it easier for people to come through legal means; and 3) allow those who have come unlawfully to make it right with the law, pay a penalty and then go through the proper channels.

In some ways this seems like a humane and practical approach to the current policy, but it also ignores the more complex issues that drive why people come to the US to begin with.0807041564

Much of what drives immigration to the US is either political repression or poverty, which are often intertwined reasons for flight. US foreign policy in Latin America, both support of political repression and trade policies are at the root of why so many people chose to leave their own country and make their way to the US. Until these policies are addressed, the immigration debate will be incomplete and inadequate.

Yang did address some common myths about immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, with taxes being one of those myths. For a more comprehensive look at myths about immigration, read Aviva Chomsky’s book They Take Our Jobs!: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration.

One other important area of omission in this lecture was the growing immigrant-led movement for justice. Ever since the massive marches in 2006, immigrants themselves have been taking the lead on what they want, whether that is challenging the broad immigration policies, those fighting for The Dream Act, those speaking out against government repression and those who challenge the racist nature of much of the anti-immigration backlash in the country.

Yang ended with some discussion about how people of faith can get involved and said people can get more information at the site and a more recent campus immigration movement called G92.

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