Who Would Jesus Deport? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Who Would Jesus Deport?

On June 20, 2014, a Central American migrant carrying a small child waits alongside a stuck northbound freight train, outside Reforma de Pineda, Chiapas state, Mexico.

On June 20, 2014, a Central American migrant carrying a small child waits alongside a stuck northbound freight train, outside Reforma de Pineda, Chiapas state, Mexico.

Religious leaders, political figures and hyperbolic talking heads have yet to reach a consensus on the Bible's application to the issue of immigration in the United States.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who considers himself a devout Christian, wrote a July 18, 2014, letter to President Obama expressing outrage at the U.S.'s growing trend of taking in and helping migrant children. It began: "I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the ongoing crisis at the United States' southern border. Illegal aliens—many unaccompanied children—are flooding into our country in record numbers."

A July 22 response to Bryant's letter highlighted the confusion associated with Christian hypocrisy. Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson wrote: "As a Christian who is the product of a similar religious tradition to Governor Bryant, I have great difficulty in understanding the position he is taking with respect to treatment of these children in this humanitarian crisis."

Bryant is not the only one who opposes opening U.S. borders to children facing violence in their home countries while also claiming his worldviews are guided by Christian ideology.

Bryan Fischer of the Tupelo-based American Family Association, a Christian nonprofit devoted to imposing the gospel on national policy, said that the Bible emphasizes the importance of borders, implying that a nation's boundary lines are more important than a "do unto your neighbor" ethos.

"Each nation's sovereignty is marked by its boundary, and each nation has the moral right to decide who will be given permission to enter its sovereign territory. Moses recognized this, and so should we. The only exception is under circumstances of a just war," Fischer wrote in a July 9 blog.

AFA's own attorney, Patrick Vaughn, however, calls migrants "risk-taking doers."

"The fact is that 60 or 70 or 90,000 children are not a difficult thing for our society to absorb. We will probably abort approximately 1 million of our own babies this year, so absorbing 100,000 children from Central American—that just kind of puts that in perspective as not being that many kids. Our society and economy could easily support them," Vaughn said this week.

Still, many conservatives, including Vaughn, agree on one thing: U.S.'s immigration problem is what Fischer calls a "man-caused disaster."

"I think the issue with children currently is somewhat of a manufactured crisis that the president allowed to happen because he thought it would advance his agenda," Vaughn said.

In 2012, President Obama signed an executive order to stop deportation of undocumented child migrants in the U.S. This, which some on the right have categorized as "amnesty," is the "manufactured crisis" Vaughn refers to.

The order did not guarantee citizenship for those migrants, nor was it a permanent solution to the problems facing the nation's southern border.

In Phil Bryant's July 18 letter to the president, he said he plans to prohibit the federal government from housing large numbers of new illegal immigrants in Mississippi.

"(It) is unfair to expect the states to bear the costs of a problem created by the federal government's failure to enforce the law," Bryant said.

But many people of faith say this isn't in line with the Christian values Bryant declares. Father Jerry Tobin, a founding member of Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said one Bible verse is especially clear on the issue of immigration: Leviticus 19:33-34.

"When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 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," reads the New International Version.

Tobin said that Bible verses that mention national borders, like the ones Fischer cites, do not have cultural significance today and do not trump the universal Christian message that calls people to help others.

"I think that's garbage. Borders are not biblical. I think what the right wing is doing to religion is twisting it to fit their own bigoted racist ideology," Tobin said, who admits he is not a biblical literalist. "That doesn't even make sense in the present context."

At a press conference at the MIRA offices in Jackson Thursday, the Christian story of the "good Samaritan" resonated with the speakers and guests in attendance. Many of the speakers called Mississippians to welcome children migrants and ensure their protection.

Amelia McGowan, an immigration attorney in Vicksburg and Christian, urged national and state leaders to respect the law, specifically the due process protection given to everyone in the United States, regardless of citizenship, in the fourteenth amendment.

"Will we, as Mississippians, truly be committed to the rule of law? Will we fight to ensure that all individuals within our state and nation receive the constitutional protections to which they are entitled?" McGowan asked. "Or will we forget that we are a nation of laws and the hospitality state and drown in the political grandstanding?"

The law, Tobin said, should "reflect justice, not the other way around." Children migrating to the United States from Central America face violence in their countries that give them valid claims for asylum, he said.

"Children are a blessing rather than a curse," Vaughn said. "We're getting the very best asset that Guatemala or Honduras has—their people."

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