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How To Advocate for Our Immigrant and Refugee Neighbors Now

Faith+Lead Connect with Diverse Neighbors, Coronavirus Leave a Comment

By Andrés Albertsen, Melissa Melnick Gonzalez

When we were first invited to contribute an article to The Faith+Leader several weeks ago, the working title we thought about was: “How To Still Advocate for Our Immigrant/Refugee Neighbors During the Pandemic.” As we have taught a course called “Spanish for Ministry” at Luther Seminary for several years now, and we will teach it again this summer, we thought this would be a relatively straightforward article to write. The pandemic was relatively new, and we found ourselves settling into a rhythm over the last two months, even enjoying and appreciating some aspects of the Stay At Home orders in Minnesota. But because we both are procrastinators, this article stayed on the back burner for some time. And then it seemed that the whole world turned upside-down here in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the title and subject just didn’t seem quite adequate anymore. There is no rhythm to what we are currently living.

Our Latinx communities have been suffering greatly during this pandemic, both because they are either “essential workers” who are required to go to work, or they have been furloughed and are receiving no income or governmental assistance because they either lack documents themselves or their spouses do. But then on Tuesday May 26th, so many of us watched in horror the video of Mr. George Floyd being murdered the night before by a Minneapolis police officer as other officers assisted or looked on. The corner of 38th & Chicago, where the murder happened, is located just blocks from where one of us, Melissa, grew up and went to church throughout her childhood and into adulthood.

There have been riots and our cities have literally been on fire. So with all of this, the issue becomes even more urgent in its modified form: “How to Still Advocate for Our Immigrant/Refugee Neighbors During the Destruction of Your City Because Police Murdered Another Black Man During a Pandemic.” Or maybe we start more basically with “How and Why to Love Our Immigrant/Refugee Neighbors Now.” We are asking you to truly encounter and want to be changed by the experiences of your neighbors. 

Remember the Bible’s Story and Your Story

Our text for the Spanish for Ministry class is Teología Liberadora by Cuban theologian Justo González (Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective is the original title in English). González reminds us that “a responsible memory brings us to responsible action” (p. 119 from our own loose translation). He draws us to these three verses:

Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21

That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19

The land must not be permanently sold because the land is mine. You are just immigrants and foreign guests of mine. Leviticus 25:23

González writes, “How different our history would be in this country if the White American remembered that they arrived here as immigrants to a land that was not theirs!” (p. 119). Just as the children of Abraham chose to forget their slavery in Egypt, so too have white Americans, and we would add white Christians, decided to forget about our own history as immigrants to this land. González says we do this as a way to escape our responsibility toward immigrants today.

Even before you begin to advocate, we ask that you go back and study these and other Scripture passages about immigrants and how God calls us to be hospitable to the immigrant, the stranger. We ask that you look at your own immigrant background, especially those sticky areas, the places that your family has not always wanted to talk about or acknowledge. Then read and study about our own church’s actions that have aggrieved first the people who were already in this land and then subsequently immigrants who arrived over the centuries, and especially those with black and brown skin who seek peace and justice, food and employment, dignity and respect for themselves and their families here.

Seek Out Relationships

We challenge you and invite you to be in relationship with immigrants and refugees in ways that might be different than what you are accustomed to. Often we find that it is relatively easy to find a cause and donate funds toward it. That is good and appreciated. But what if you took it a step further? What might that look like? We would like to ask you to consider how you might build deep and meaningful relationships with immigrants and refugees. How might you step out of your comfort zone and into Christian fellowship with people who have had vastly different experiences than you? This may seem scary or overwhelming, and it might be to begin with, but the fruits of your efforts will be sweet, indeed.

Reach out to local churches in your area that work and worship with immigrants and refugees. Ask if you can attend worship with them, learn more about their ministry, or participate in a Bible study or another activity. Listen deeply to their vision and mission. Observe. As you build a relationship, you will find that the ways in which you can walk together will become more apparent. So often we want to jump in and “help” without really knowing people and understanding what their dreams and goals are. Take time. Listen. Learn. And then you will get a clearer idea about what, if anything, you might do.

Now in these times, we find that the people of our immigrant and refugee communities are afraid. They are afraid of getting COVID-19 and not having anyone to take care of their children. They are afraid of losing their income or not having health insurance. As we said above, many of them have actually lost their income because of the pandemic. And to make matters worse, our immigrant brothers and sisters are also afraid because they live and work in the areas that have been most impacted by fires and other destruction in the aftermath of the massive manifestations of protest against the oppression of people of color in our nation. Many have lost their place of employment, some their homes, and some their businesses. In addition, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has continued to detain many immigrants, while it has been proven that people in ICE detention are especially susceptible to COVID-19 because of close proximity and often unsanitary conditions.

Some Specific Actions

  • Call your state representatives to provide healthcare and unemployment insurance to people affected by this virus. 
  • Call your federal representatives and demand that they free the people in the ICE detention centers. 
  • Pray for immigrants and refugees. Pray so that your own heart would be opened.
  • Contribute, more than ever, to your local churches and ministries that walk every day with immigrants and refugees. 
  • Speak up to your denomination, so that all candidates for ordination to ministry from these communities are called and ordained with pay and benefits.

You can find really good Lutheran resources about immigrants and refugees through Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services (LIRS), Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO), and Lutheran Social Services (LSS). They provide ways to act nationally and advocate on policy, and send out regular action alerts.

Finally, do not be overwhelmed. Take this all step-by-step. Learn. Listen. Read Scripture. Pray for guidance. Build relationships in whatever way you can. Support ministries and other organizations that do the everyday work. Know that God will bless you in this work. You might make some mistakes. We all do. And when you do make a mistake, reflect, ask for forgiveness and learn. Examine your own biases and try again. God’s kingdom is multicultural and multilingual. God’s kingdom is love. May you be blessed as you work to build the kingdom. 

About the Authors:

Andrés Albertsen is a Ph.D. candidate at Luther Seminary in Systematic Theology and editor of Spanish-language content on WorkingPreacher.org. He was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark and was the pastor of the Danish Lutheran Church in Buenos Aires (associated with the Danish Church Abroad / Danish Seamen’s Church) for twenty years before coming to Minnesota in 2011. Currently he serves as pastor in the ELCA at Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar, MN.  Andrés Albertsen is originally from Argentina. 

Melissa Melnick Gonzalez is founder and pastor of Tapestry, a multicultural and bilingual (Spanish/English) community of faith (ELCA) in Richfield, MN, a first-tier suburb of Minneapolis and a resident of St. Paul. Tapestry shares the love of Jesus through food, music and education with people from Tapestry, in our community and with our mostly-Anglo ELCA churches. Before becoming a pastor, Melissa was a Spanish and English as a Second Language teacher from kindergarten through adult. She lived and studied in Mexico long ago and continues to speak Spanish and learn daily from her brothers and sisters of color.

Photo by Mehrad Vosoughi

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