The Christian and Jewish traditions have a rich understanding of radical hospitality.
Throughout our scriptures, followers are called to “remember the stranger in your midst as you were once strangers in a strange land.” This understanding of hospitality is interwoven in the biblical ideal that we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
This rich understanding has called the faith community through the centuries to open its doors to those who were on the margins of society. Many of our congregations today are continuing the same tradition with the many immigrants that face living in the shadows of our society. They display radical hospitality through the offering of English as a Second Language classes, the developing of personal friendship through worship and fellowship events, and the offer of food through food pantries.
These are our neighbors. Many experience overwhelming discrimination because of their race, culture or accent. It is then multiplied by their status of being undocumented.
Arguments that they somehow deserve the discrimination they encounter because they have broken immigration law does not hold up for those of us that have built personal relationships and know the value and contribution they bring to our economy, community and congregations.
The more we are involved with this issue, the more stories we have heard of so many dealing with the crushing reality of husbands and wives being separated and parents being taken away from their children. In fiscal year 2012, 95,000 parents of citizen children were deported. In fact, in the last four years, 1.4 million parents have been deported.
The face on this issue is Hilary Hernandez of Fort Smith. She recently asked, “Do you know how many times I have taken my baby boy to the detention center, where I’ve never wanted him before, to see his dad?”
She is a native of Fort Smith. In 2003, she fell in love with and married Carlos Hernandez, a Mexican citizen and undocumented immigrant. While fighting diligently since her marriage to earn papers for her husband, the Hernandezes had two Arkansas-born children, Carlos and Leticia, who are 10 and 5 years old respectively.
Carlos Sr. has been detained on multiple occasions for his lack of legal status either due to traffic violations or poor legal representation, which undermined his efforts to arrange residency. As a result, Carlos and Leticia cling to photos to remember their father. Carlos Jr. recently shared in a video that was posted on Facebook: “I have not told my mother and sister this, but sometimes I hallucinate that my father is back home … and then I wake up crying, realizing that he is not really there.”
Carlos and Leticia’s father is currently in a detention center in Mississippi, and is set to be deported on September 24th of this year if immigration reform is not passed.
Senate Bill 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, has passed the full Senate in a bipartisan vote. We now call on Congressmen Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Tom Cotton to support it.
We serve faith traditions that have people from all backgrounds as members, whether conservative or liberal; white,Hispanic or black; those with great financial means and those with less, who continue to support this immigration reform effort.
The value of welcoming the stranger and loving your neighbor cuts across all traditions and spectrums. In our denominations, we are concerned about prioritizing family unity and reunification, making sure there is a pathway to citizenship and assuring humanitarian oversight on security provisions.
The time is right for a just and humane reform of our immigration system. Our faith traditions call us to love and care for the stranger in our midst who is our neighbor. We offer our prayers and call on our congressmen to remember the concern of the person of faith to love the stranger who is our neighbor.
The authors, Episcopal Bishop Larry Benfield, Rabbi Barry Block, Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Michael Girlinghouse, United Methodist Bishop Gary Mueller, and Roman Catholic Bishop Anthony Taylor, represent faith traditions with a diversity of congregations across Arkansas.