Our religious communities have a huge stake in mitigating the damage of an ongoing immigration crisis, says author Kent Annan.
Treatment of immigrants and refugees reveals a lot about our families, churches, communities and nation, he explains in his forthcoming book, “You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us.”
Annan is director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton (Ill.) College, a private Christian institution in the Chicago area. He begins “You Welcomed Me” by recalling a conversation about immigrants with his 8-year-old son, who asked, “Are we for them or against them?”
“Our call to love our neighbors as ourselves can get warped into a call to protect Americans as ourselves,” says Annan. “The lives of people who are vulnerable are at stake, and our own lives are at stake as people who won’t welcome them.”
Annan says that isn’t an extreme stance.
“Refugees had to flee danger at home, and the ones eligible to resettle here are only the most vulnerable 1 percent,” he explains. “We’re breaking up families with deportation; children were separated from their parents at the border. As a country, we’re now receiving about 75 percent fewer refugees than the past. Immigrants and refugees are, it seems, being harassed because of how they’re talked about in the public square.”
Today, there are 47 million legal immigrants in the United States, according to the United Nations Population Division. The Department of Homeland Security notes the majority are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (47 percent) or received family sponsorship (20 percent).
Thirteen percent are refugees or asylum-seekers. Since 1975, nearly three-quarters of the nation’s 3 million refugees, have come from western Asia and northeastern Africa, according to the U.S. State Department.
“Immigrants and refugees both challenge and affirm the narrative of America,” Annan writes in chapter 3. “The United States has been a place of refuge and opportunity for many strangers. … a place of refusal for others (during travel bans), a place of purgatory for millions (particularly undocumented workers) … and a place of exploitative oppression past and present for still others (including Native Americans, slaves and their dependents).”