Genuine Refugees or Illegal Immigrants?

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News reports the past several days have shown an estimated 7,000 people, mostly from the Central American countries of Honduras and Guatemala, traveling through Mexico on their way to the United States. Are they to be considered genuine refugees or illegal immigrants?

Internet stories abound, replete with photos of men, women, and children carrying small bags of clothing or other personal possessions. Their facial expressions range from tearful fright to aggressive anger. Many are young men, seemingly traveling with buddies but no identifiable family. Some are young children with mothers or fathers or grandparents or aunts or uncles.

Most are walking. Some are riding on flat bed trailers or in the back of pickup trucks. Some are floating on makeshift rafts or inner tubes on the Suchiate River, the border between Guatemala and Mexico, trying to bypass border officials. Others have torn down barricades at the border between Guatemala and Mexico. Still others wait in line at the border to enter Mexico legally.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. the debate rages on, fueled by approaching mid-term elections and the broad chasm between those who would welcome anyone to our country and those who take a more restrictive approach. Again, are those who seek entry genuine refugees or illegal immigrants? Either way, they are human beings, children of our heavenly Father. There’s no simple solution.

In the mid-19th century my forefathers and foremothers, and very likely yours as well, left their home country and came to America. They traveled on ships, enduring dire conditions throughout the three month voyage. Upon arrival in New York or New Orleans or Galveston, they made their way to what became their new home and eked out a living from the land.

There was little if any public assistance available to our ancestors. They made their own way and became law abiding, tax paying citizens of this country. They pledged their allegiance to the flag and to the values of the United States of America. That was then. This is now. Some in the current immigration caravan surely seek to do the same. What about the others?

What should be our proper response to this humanitarian dilemma? We have laws that govern immigration to our shores. Those laws need to be followed or amended. Not all the immigrants in question are evil people, just folks who seek safety and opportunity to provide basic needs for themselves and their families. We need to do what we can to help them reestablish their lives in our country. That assistance must be provided responsibly.

The Bible is full of encouragement, even commands, for people of God to welcome strangers. It’s much easier to do so when those strangers are genuine refugees, not illegal immigrants.

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