Forget the concept of “fake news” for a moment. Our country and our world has a problem with false perception. It is true that media and headlines often create narratives which feed into the way that we perceive the world around us, but it is equally true that our perceptions feed into the way the media works. A Basic Marketing 101 lesson is this: you can’t market what people won’t buy.
It would be an understatement to say that immigration is a hot topic right now. For many, it single-handedly drove their votes in both the 2016 and 2018 election, whether to the right or the left (Harambe voters, however, never made their position clear). There is an on-going concern or fear in the hearts of many good working individuals and communities of what illegal or even legal immigration means for jobs, economics, taxes, and safety. For others, the exceptional brokenness of our immigration system heightens the responsibility America has towards outsiders in need of a better life, safety, or family reunification. For everyone, the question ultimately comes down to “What kind of country should America be in relation to the rest of the world?” or “What is our responsibility to the ‘tired, poor, and huddled masses’ that our Statue of Liberty so eloquently incites.
But as with anything that is “sold,” the devil really does lay in the details. Far too many Americans receive their opinions regarding both legal and illegal immigration from network news shows, political ads, partisan websites, and plain ol’ public shouting matches. While it is tempting to jump knee deep into the debate with contesting facts and figures, I believe true understanding comes through two avenues: first, an establishment of what we can agree on and, secondly, through the patient study of the interlocking dynamics of the whole system. One cannot (well, one can, but one should not make rash judgments on surface data).
Two books have been extremely helpful in this regard. First and foremost is Jenny Yang and Matt Soeren’s Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (IVP: 2018). Yang and Soeren, two evangelical Christians who work for World Relief, do perhaps the best job I have seen in my years of looking at this issue in laying out the basic issues of the debate within the framework of Christian theology and through political integrity. This approach is sorely needed given the rash, high-emotional intensity of social media soundbites.
Soeren and Yang do a good job in parsing out the issues (economics, jobs, safety, etc.) while providing a thorough sense of how the immigration system works and the ways in which it is broken. I found it helpful to read Dale Bourke’s Immigration: Tough Questions, Direct Answers (IVP: 2014) alongside this as a simple and yet succinct breakdown of the particulars of our immigration system historically and presently. Most individuals are not aware, for example, that our concern for refugees and asylum seekers goes back to World War II. Most are not aware that DACA only became a matter of partisan divide recently. Most are not aware that even undocumented immigrants do pay taxes. Most are not aware that of the 11 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority have gotten here not through jumping a wall or tunneling but through various other processes. Most are not aware of the broken systems that do not allow for those who have been here undocumented to pursue legality while here.
The other book that is helpful here is not specifically tailored towards immigration but towards a global understanding of the world. Window on the World by Operation World Prayer, is equally perhaps the best intro level “window” (pun intended) on the various countries in our world that anyone can find. It is difficult to hold accurate opinions of America’s responsibility to the rest of the world if one has no general idea of what the rest of the world looks like and what is happening.
The book is rich with pictures of citizens of each country, ranging from Sudan to Uzbekistan and beyond. With maps, information about the economies, the religions and customs, and general concerns, and issues for prayer and action, Window on the World is one of those few books that I think every church and family should have access to. I would suggest, in fact, that it is a book that is excellent for both parent and child.
We recently made the decision to sponsor a child in Haiti through World Vision (Drinklings also supports World Vision through some of its contributions). That was a personal family decision that we honestly cannot recommend highly enough as a responsibility every Jesus following family should consider, but this book served as a very helpful introduction for our kids on what Haiti is like, what challenges they face, and why we are choosing to participate in a young individual’s life. When kids and parents both can learn through getting outside of one's own daily world and perceptions, there is beauty and compassion that grow with the home!
Stepping outside of one’s country and actually seeing another world has the potential to change you eternally. While many of us do not have that chance to get out of our own country or even our own community, exposure is still critically important if we wish to have a voice or participation in either domestic or foreign affairs. Issues like immigration (here) or our own involvement in the concerns of other countries (worldwide) must be a matter of information and serious reflection. I would argue, in fact, that for the follower of Jesus, our responsibility is even more-so.