The New Migrant Crisis: How Might We Live as Citizens of Heaven, Bringing Relief Here on Earth?
A migration crisis is once again in the headlines. As I type, over 7,000 Latin Americans are making their way north from Honduras, in hopes of eventually reaching the United States. According to reports, they are walking anywhere from 25 to 45 miles a day and often in flip-flops. They’ve been at it for 15 days.
I’ve heard a handful of interviews on the radio and watched film of the caravan online. I’m struck especially by the mothers carrying babies and toddlers. When asked, they say they hope the US will let them in because they have no hope anywhere else. But based on current policy—both the channels of legal immigration and the definition of asylum—I don’t feel hopeful for these desperate fellow image bearers. I imagine that they’ll arrive at our border and not be allowed in. Their plight and their peril is heartbreaking.
It’s unclear exactly how this caravan got started. Many of the walkers say they saw a post on Facebook or a segment on the evening news. They say they decided to take a risk and join the large group. It’s seen as a way to travel safely, in hopes that their sheer size will protect them from smugglers and violence. Human traffickers, known as Coyotes, charge as much as $4,000-$8,000 to get one person across the border into the US. It seems possible that the caravan is a grassroots effort to flee poverty and violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
But it also seems possible that there is a sinister source behind the caravan. I heard on a news podcast today that the Wall Street Journal reported, “Though the details are murky, we do know that former Honduran Congressman, Bartolo Fuentes, of the left wing, Libre party, has admitted to organizing this caravan." It may be that various governments (like Venezuela) and criminal organizations in Latin America would benefit from destabilization at our border.
In other words, it is plausible that there are forces at work who are exploiting the migrants for their own political or financial gain, once havoc is unleashed at the US/Mexico border in the next week or two. Whether that’s the case or not, Christians and Americans and all decent human beings should be horrified and eager to assist our brothers and sisters who are in such dire straits. According to the Washington Examiner, “Mexico's southern border is shared with Guatemala. From that border, it is 1,125 miles by foot to McAllen, Texas. At three miles an hour, that's 375 hours, or about 38 days if they walk 10 hours a day.” Our friends to the south are on the journey of their lifetimes.
The reality is that the Latin American migrants are not likely to be admitted into the US. Or perhaps they will, but they will be detained and separated from family members. Whatever happens, it’s bound to be a heartbreaking crisis for each individual.
Immigrating is Hard
Our family of six has immigrated out of and into the US many times. Our path has been nothing like the current migrants, nor anything like the European migrant crisis of 2015. But over the years, we have immigrated to Japan, Thailand, and the Czech Republic and we’ve also immigrated our Thai daughter into the US. No matter the country, it has never been easy. In order to gain entry as long-term residents in other nations we have gone through months (sometimes years) of providing background checks, financial statements, proof of education, promises of support from local nationals, health checks, and more. We’ve wrung our hands and begged God to deliver us our visas before flights scheduled to depart within hours.
Immigrating our adopted daughter was extremely difficult. For starters, though our adoption was complete, the Thai government would not issue her a passport. We were her legal parents, but living in Japan without a way to bring her home. My husband, my three young kids, and I put everything on hold and moved to Thailand to hound the government ourselves. They finally issued her a passport—incidentally in the middle of a coup.
Because of the unique circumstances surrounding her adoption, we could not immediately immigrate her to the US as an adopted orphan. We had to immigrate her as a family member, requiring us to live overseas with her for three years. We were not permitted to move back to the US during that time. My husband’s mother was diagnosed with ALS at the beginning of that three years and we labored to get permission to cut the wait so that we could be with her.
We joined the unspeakably long line of people all over the world trying to immigrate to the US. No matter what we did, we could not convince the US government to let us come home. We called the Department of Homeland Security, we pled our case at the US Embassy in Japan, we cried on the phone to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). We simply had to wait our turn in line—and we are Americans. My mother-in-law went to heaven just days before USCIS issued our daughter a visa. The timing was unspeakably sad.
But that’s immigration. It’s often sad. It just is. And compared to the migrants who are currently on the road, our story is nothing. I can only imagine the mothers and grandmothers who might be sick or in need or unemployed that the young migrants have left behind.
As a Citizen of Heaven, Consider Going
So what’s a North American Christian to do? Here’s a thought for those of us with valuable passports—those of us with nationalities that are broadly welcomed around the world—if our souls are aching because of images of mothers and fathers and babies collapsing from exhaustion in the middle of a Mexican street—maybe we should go. Really. Maybe we should consider a short-term or long-term stay south of the border. Because our immigrating there is definitely easier than them immigrating here.
Not only are our passports invaluable, but so are our skills, education, English language, occupation, and can-do attitude that could all be used to alleviate suffering in any number of situations. Many nations would welcome our partnership in serving their people.
This migrant crisis—and all of the forces causing it, like poverty, corruption, violent criminal rings, human smuggling, drug operations, unstable governments, uncontrolled gangs—aren’t going to be solved by either Latin American governments or ours. No amount of legislation is going to curb the evil at play. No political measure is going to bring relief to all 7,200 people who are walking this way right now, nor to the thousands who are undoubtedly right behind them.
But the people of God might be able to bring relief. Christians, by the power of the Holy Spirit, might be able to offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’s name (Matthew 10:42). You and I might be able to alleviate suffering and whoever receives us, receives Jesus and the Father who sent him (Matthew 10:40). Like the European crisis, this Latin American crisis might be a providential call—a missionary call—for you and me to go.
The Lord God has determined the times and places in which we should live (Acts 17:26). He may be inviting us to provide food, drink, clothes, and more in His name (Matthew 25:35-40). Immigrating is hard. But it is easier for you and me than it is for them.
How might we leverage our citizenship in the US to bring glory and honor to our King? How might we live as citizens of heaven, bringing relief here on Earth? What is the Lord asking of you and me in the midst of this crisis, which is just to the south of us? This is not a distant European and African problem. This one is right here in the western hemisphere and as Christ followers you and I have some kind of role. Let’s seek the Lord and ask him what it is.