At the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico, two very different visions of God meet. As an expat living in San Miguel de Allende, I hear both the rhetoric of the religious right that rails against immigration, and also the pleas of the Central American immigrants who claim faith as the backbone for their journey north.
I recently met San Miguel-based immigration lawyer Rebecca Eichler who counsels immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. She reports that the immigrants’ strong faith surfaces again and again when they explain why they want to continue heading towards the border. They resolutely believe God will protect them. One immigrant man, after being informed of the reality of the border situation between Mexico and the U.S., said “With God, there are no borders.” Other immigration volunteers also report that while the immigrants understand the dire conditions they will face, “without exception, their motivation for continuing on is an unbending belief in God.”
As the conditions at the border continue to deteriorate, if the United States fails to act with benevolence, then it will have failed morally as a nation.
Eichler notes, it is “striking that the God of the migrants is so at odds with the God who blesses America.” While much could be said about this profound statement, it would seem that “the God who blesses America,” at least the one called upon by politicians in recent years, comes with many strings attached and a well-entrenched belief system designed to protect those who already possess the most. The underlying conviction of this God is that the poor and most vulnerable are only worthy of assistance if they stay far away from our own backyard. As soon as they begin to flee the violence and unrest in their home countries, they become unworthy criminals.
However, according to the Sunday school classes of my youth, it is our treatment of “the least of these” that is the gold standard by which our actions are be measured. For compassion isn’t dependent upon the recipient’s behavior, last I checked. It is dependent upon the condition of our hearts. True religion necessitates both compassion for those in need and a willingness to set aside our own comfort, preference, and agenda to assist those less fortunate. It means identifying the true nature of love and extending kindness to suffering beings – no matter where on the planet they reside, no matter their nationality, what they are fleeing, or what borders they cross. On this, all world religions seem to agree. Helping those in need is a core tenet of every major faith system around the globe.
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A fellow American volunteer helping the immigrants expressed that while he fears for them and what they may encounter as they head north, he respects their self-determination and only knows that “in my moment with them I can treat them with dignity.” Not only are these words a poignant example of serving as a bridge between divided populations, they are also an indicator of real love – giving something away freely with no strings attached.
One immigrant stated, “We plan to get in line at the border… hopefully, the American president will find it in his heart to let us in.” Although I am skeptical of the immigrant’s hope for a change of heart in President Trump, surely a country of such great wealth can work towards compassionate solutions for the world’s poor who are congregating at its doorstep. After all, the Statue of Liberty herself says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Religious views may continue to create more divides than they heal. But as the conditions at the border continue to deteriorate, if the United States fails to act with benevolence, then it will have failed morally as a nation. If love is indeed an indicator of true religion, then let us choose love.