You may have heard the news but the issue of illegal immigration is kind of a thing right now. The President issued an executive order that emphasizes enforcement of existing immigration laws, which translates to focus on deportation of all illegal immigrants.

Enforcing laws is actually what the executive branch of the government is supposed to do in this country. It has not been uncommon in the last couple of decades for Americans to view the Executive as the one who generates policy/law. Technically, that’s not what the Executive is for. It is supposed to execute the laws (notice “Executive” and “execute”) that Congress passes. The Judicial branch helps to interpret those laws, when there is such a question, but the Executive is there to do the will of Congress. And Congress’ laws about immigration are the ones that the President is looking to enforce.

At face, the President is doing his job. This is exactly what he should be doing. To some degree, responsibility should be cast back upon the legislative branch if the people do not approve of the laws being executed. Congress is responsible for changing those laws.

However.

There are more facts that cloud the analysis of Constitutional faithfulness of what’s going on right now. Most distressing is the way that immigrants (legal or otherwise) have been cast by the current administration as a suspect and dangerous, invasive force. If you love President Trump, you can protest all you like that these orders only target illegal immigrants, and especially prioritize illegal immigrants that have committed crimes here (beyond the laws they’ve broken to come in illegally). No one else is being demonized.

If that’s really what you think, I admire your dedication to the President’s cause. But I don’t think your fellow supporters are all getting the message. I’d argue that this man took uncommon, violent action to express a common sentiment that is stoked by President Trump and his people: “Get out of my country.” Illegal immigrants are a convenient icon for this sentiment because they have, indeed, broken the law to move here.

And look, there’s no way around that. People who have run or swam across the border really have broken the law to get here. And the law really is clear about what should happen to them. They truly are criminals. I’m a pretty black-and-white person and I just don’t see any way around that. And as a person whose grandparents fled here legally from Cuba, I can testify that it is not impossible to legally immigrate.

But I think you are making a serious mistake if all you can do is pin frustrations and fears on illegal immigrants and refuse to see them as anything other than criminals.

Often, illegal immigrants have highly commendable motivations for doing what they’ve done. They are desperate to care for their families. Whether they are afraid of gang violence in Central America or they are desperate to earn a better living or secure a better education for their children, their desires are commendable. And the vast majority of illegal immigrants that I’ve known are incredibly hard-working people who are not looking for any kind of handout. In fact, they’ve worked hard to try to pay their taxes. And they’re often working hard at jobs that no legal resident wants. They are doing hard manual labor at lower-paying jobs. They do it better and harder than the white people that complain about their presence and would never want the job those Hispanics have. These “criminals” have children who grow up here and deal with the stress of trying to have a normal, responsible life without making any trouble or being found out without papers. And they’re all doing it because they want to pursue that quintessential “American dream.”

I’m not saying they’re not criminals. I’m not saying the solution is that the border should be open and there should be no consequences. I do think we should secure our borders and control the flow of immigration (though the fascination with a big wall is silly to me). I think any responsible nation should do that. I’m not at all saying that no one should be deported or that I even know who should be the ones that are deported. It seems to be a wise strategy to deport undocumented immigrants who have committed violent crimes. That’s a great place to start (though it seems that the language of this executive order makes it easy to move out from there… and quickly).

Where I’d like us to start is to maybe just pause in our hearts and say, “These people have committed a crime by sneaking in. But they are not just criminals.”

These are people. People who have good, American dreams. I’d go so far as to say that the desire to provide a better future for your family is a Godly desire. Can you imagine being so desperate to provide for your family that you were willing to sneak across a desert, live in an apartment with lots of other people, just so you could send money home to your wife and kids? That’s a level of desperation that many of us will never feel, and we should feel compassion for people that live that reality everyday.

We Christians should also acknowledge that we are often talking about our brothers and sisters when we talk about immigrants (legal or otherwise). And they are scared. Even if you are deeply committed to the execution of these laws, you truly feel these laws are just and right, you should at least acknowledge that we are talking about our brothers and sisters often being the recipient of these actions. And that family identity transcends national identity. Our Christian identity is more central than our national identity.

Maybe I feel this a bit more poignantly because my last name is Rodriguez. Maybe the years of names that people thought it was ok to throw at me because we were friends makes me all-too-aware of the kinds of antipathy towards Hispanics that is acceptable in many parts of our society. If my friends thought it was ok to laugh about calling me “wetback” (and I know they weren’t harboring any hatred in their jokes), people I don’t know probably are pretty comfortable about being derogatory like that for real.

I don’t know how to fix the problem of border security in this country. I truly don’t. I don’t know how you make room for people and who should stay and who should go. I just know that we can’t allow people grasping for power to trick us into thinking that immigrants, even illegal immigrants, are just criminals. They are more than that. They are fathers, mothers, children, grandchildren. They are often some of the bravest, most family-oriented, hardest-working people you’ll ever meet. If you’re dead set on kicking them out of the country because they don’t have a visa, I can understand how you’d arrive at that position.

Please just don’t forget that they’re people. I hope we can at least tell them to go with a tear in our eye. I hope we’re not doing it with glee. I want to believe we can still see them as bearers of the image of God. I really want to believe that.

But I’m having a hard time actually believing.

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