We each have our political opinions about immigration and the issues surrounding it. I do, and I know you do, too. There are times and places to share those views. But that’s not what this post is about.
As I’ve said many times before, I’m not so much concerned with politics as I am with theology and rhetoric. People’s hearts are a lot more important to me than their votes, though I imagine impacting the former will have an effect on the latter. And I am sincerely concerned about the conversation surrounding immigration as of late, especially among my fellow people of faith.
Our words reflect our worldviews. Whether in person or online, what we say is an expression of what we believe. The things we say matter. They affect other people, and they represent who we are to the world. And unfortunately, much of what I’ve heard and read about immigrants, their children, and the policies surrounding them reflect beliefs that are discompassionate at best and downright hateful at worst.
That’s not who we are. At least, I hope it’s not. If we claim to believe in grace, kindness, and compassion—and especially if we claim to worship a God who is love—then our words should reflect the grace, kindness, love, and compassion that we believe in. And that includes the words we use to talk to and about immigrants.
There have been a lot of labels thrown around to describe this group of people lately, many of them egregious. The worst of them, though, have been the ones that seek to strip immigrants of their personhood. They’ve been called animals. An infestation. Criminals. Aliens. The most common de-humanizing term I’ve seen thrown around is “illegals,” a shorthand for “illegal immigrants” that just happens to leave out the part that indicates their personhood.
This is not the way compassionate people talk about other people. And this is just one of the many ways that the conversation around immigration has been infected with hate. It should not be so.
A while back, I wrote an article called People are People. This has become a sort of mantra for me, and it inspires a great deal of what I write on this blog. It may seem redundant to be writing this post, especially since I literally included the line, “Immigrants—legal or otherwise—are people,” in that post. But I am aware of my own temptation to forget and neglect the truth that people are people, and from what I’ve observed in even the most compassionate people, we could all use a reminder. Especially when it comes to people and groups we don’t like or perceive as a threat, we need a reminder from time to time that even they are people.
I don’t have a hidden agenda with this article. My entire point this week is this: Immigrants are people. We should recognize them and treat them as such. That’s all I’m here to say.
Treating someone as a person means recognizing their value. Every person is just as much a person—and therefore just as important—as you and me. We’re all created in the image of God, and we all matter. No one’s needs are more important than any other’s. It doesn’t matter where someone is from; immigrants matter. They matter just as much as anyone else, including US citizens. End of story.
Personhood also includes a narrative. Every immigrant who comes to the border has a story. They have a history, sometimes a tragic and dangerous one, that has led them to where they are. They have a family, often a family who is journeying along with them. They have a rich inner life of thoughts, emotions, and dreams just like anyone else. Every person, including every immigrant, has a story.
Being a person isn’t all good stuff, though. Every person has flaws, too, because no one is perfect. We shouldn’t overlook the fact that people make mistakes, nor should we have unrealistic expectations that any person or group be perfect. Immigrants are imperfect people just like the rest of us; let’s not ignore that or be surprised by it.
These are just a few of the things that come along with recognizing the personhood of another. Of the course, there are many more. But ultimately, acknowledging the fact that someone else is a person—if we’re truly doing so—elicits compassion in each of us. When we’re at our best, when we’re being who we’re meant to be, when we’re taking the time to recognize other people as people, we have compassion for others. We have compassion for all. We have compassion for immigrants.
I don’t have all the answers for the issues facing our world. No one does. But I know that the solution starts with recognizing people as people and showing them the compassion they deserve as such. May we never allow politics, prejudice, pride, or any other vice to keep us from doing so. I have in the past, and that’s why I need these reminders. If you find yourself in that place right now, it is my hope that these words will spur to renew your commitment to compassion, too.
Immigrants are people; let’s treat them like it. Thanks for reading.