"So what do we do?" For years, I shrugged and mumbled at this question. I felt confident discussing historical roots of immigration challenges and sharing my personal experiences, but I didn't know how to guide others towards action.
Part of my resistance was because I was hoping for a silver bullet. That magical one thing that would solve all disagreements and injustices associated with immigration. Do I need to say that I don't think that exists?
In researching and writing Love Undocumented, I was reminded of the metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ. Immigration challenges are expansive and varied, and so can be our engagement. There is no singular Christian response. We all have a role to play in welcoming newcomers.
However, I still believe it's helpful to think concretely about how we can love our immigrant neighbors well. So I created a handy acronym. (Check out the bookmarks at the end of this post, too!) Here are some examples of how we can LEAD Welcome in our communities.
L - LOVING ACTS: neighborly kindness and care
Does a Spanish-speaking parent need help filling out paperwork for their child's school? Does a Burmese neighbor need a ride to the doctor's office? Is their an immigrant family in your church or school community you could invite over for dinner? (Let's shatter this statistic!) Can you visit men and women waiting in immigration detention? (El Refugio is an incredible Georgia ministry facilitating such connections.)
This micro actions can be incredibly meaningful to new arrivals, especially those who may not feel welcome in this country at all. Acts of kindness and kinship can go a long way in building bridges and creating community.
E - EMPOWER: helping immigrants adjust and thrive
Many immigrants are risk-takers because it requires immense courage to immigrate. What actions can help empower immigrants to lean into their independence and strength in their new country? Teaching English, providing employment, or offering scholarships to students who are ineligible for scholarships or in-state tuition (here's one!) are a few examples.
These acts of empowerment can help immigrants overcome common barriers and challenges. With these resources and skills, they can begin to establish their own, thriving lives in the U.S.
A - ADVOCATE: promote change and welcome
One of the ways we support our immigrant neighbors to advocate for more welcome in our country. We can use our privilege of citizenship to vote for politicians who speak about new arrivals with dignity and respect and who actively seek to write and support policies that consider the needs of immigrants on the margins. In our climate of derogatory speak and false information, we can also speak up in our spheres of influence to encourage deeper, more respectful understanding of immigration today.
Currently, the desire to pass a clean DREAM Act has gained momentum in Congress, but it continues to need more support. One simple way to advocate for welcome is to call our representatives and ask that they pass this legislation. Here's an easy walk-through for phone numbers and a script.
D - DEVELOPMENT: generate choice and opportunity
Not everyone who immigrates wants to. It's a reality that I don't think is talked about enough. But many people who come to the U.S. - while grateful for the opportunity to work and live - feel as though they had no other choice. Often violence or extreme poverty conditions push them to prioritize their family's survival and immigrate.
Billy and I have co-founded BRIDGE, a business initiative to create jobs in Guatemala, because we believe offering people choice is an important piece of affirming the dignity of others. These types of international development projects, as well as efforts such as fair-trade products, open doors for families to make their own decisions about whether they'd like to immigrate or not.
There is no one answer to the challenges of immigration. There is no 5-step plan to "fix" everything that's broken in our current system. (Oh, how I wish their was!) But the challenges and injustices of our immigration system do not paralyze the church. The body of Christ must respond in multi-faceted, nuanced ways that impact our immigrant neighbors next door as well as broader populations in our country and abroad.