by Jeff Haanen
Scrolling through my Facebook feed, last week I noticed a rare delight: Edith Franco was beaming. Recently graduated with a masters degree, she posed in black cap and gown in front of the Texas State University sign smiling ear to ear.
Almost a decade ago I was her youth pastor at a small church in Brighton. Optimistic, kind and bright, Edith was the first to volunteer, the last to complain and she ran circles around her AP classes in high school. As I wondered where the time had went, I also worried for her: What will an undocumented immigrant do with all that potential?
This week I was one of 180 entities and individuals representing business, law enforcement and faith communities to urge the new Biden administration to reform our nation’s outdated and broken immigration system.
I come to this debate not as a business leader, clamoring for an updated immigration system that meets employment needs of our modern economy, nor as a police officer, wanting to bring security to communities that live in lawless limbo because of unenforceable immigration laws that haven’t been substantially changed since 1965.
Instead, I support immigration reform primarily as a person of faith.
From 2011-2013, I pastored “Dreamers,” youth who were brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents as children, often infants. High school students like Edith, so eager to contribute to the only country they had ever known, lived under a constant cloud. The fear of deportation and separation from their family — not to mention minimal job prospects in a shadow economy — gave me an introduction to the ways outdated laws could oppress rather than “establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, and promote the general Welfare,” as our constitution states.
My experience as a pastor of a Hispanic congregation led me to investigate what the Bible said on the topic. I was surprised to learn that the Hebrew word for foreigner or stranger, ger, occurs 92 times in the Old Testament. And some of the most well-known figures of my faith were immigrants. Abram was called “out or Ur” to leave his homeland and move to Canaan. Joseph was an immigrant in Egypt, as were Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 2:22) Reminding them of this fact, God commanded his people to not mistreat the foreigner, but instead to “love them as yourself,” because they too were once immigrants in a foreign land (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Jesus himself was a refugee as a child, fleeing persecution with his parents as an infant (Matthew 2:13-15). Later in life, Jesus made foreigners the heroes of his parables (Luke 10:25-37) and even claimed that welcoming the stranger is the same as welcoming him (Matthew 25:44-45).
Friends in my own theologically conservative circles are quick to point out the importance of the rule of law, citing Romans 13: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
To this I wholeheartedly agree. Because laws must be obeyed, when they cease to serve the common good, they need reformation.
Indeed, all 180 signatories believe in the need to make changes to our immigration law which strengthens communities, addresses border security, grows our economy, expands visas for high tech and agricultural work, and regularizes the status of the estimated 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., including more than 800,000 Dreamers like Edith.
In my work at Denver Institute for Faith & Work, we teach that all people are made in God’s image and created to work (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). We believe all work has value, must be fairly compensated (Deut. 24:15), and both workers and employers should obey the rule of law. And all should have the opportunity to reach-their God-given potential.
I recently called Edith to catch up. Two years ago she married a Puerto Rican and is now a legal resident. She’s working in a law office, using her masters degree to help other immigrants navigate a broken immigration maze that desperately needs reform.
“There are so many people who want to be here and want to contribute to this country,” Edith said. “Shouldn’t they be able to?”
This op-ed first appeared in the Boulder Weekly. It is the rare piece of advocacy I do on an issue I care about. If you’d like to learn more about the topic of immigration, here’s a nine-minute Scripture reflection focused on the theme of the “foreigner.” Also, here’s a series of talks from leading Christian thinkers and practitioners on the topic of immigration from a Christian perspective which I helped produce at a conference nearly 8 years ago. Finally, I should mention that Edith’s new married last name is “de Cardona.”