Posted by: Philip Rushton | August 7, 2013

Seeing The Person Behind The Issue

I have been thinking a lot about a guy named Marco this week. I met Marco while I was at Duke Divinity School this summer. He and some of his friends shared their experience about what it is like to be undocumented immigrants that were brought into this country when they were children.

Dream9The reason Marco has been on my mind lately is because he was detained at the Elroy Detention Center in Arizona three weeks ago. He and two other young undocumented workers voluntarily returned to Mexico a few weeks back with the intention of returning to the U.S. They attempted to enter the US at a legal port of entry in Arizona by appealing for humanitarian parole. These three, along with six others who joined up with them in Mexico, were immediately detained in Arizona when they made their immigration status known.

These 9 immigrants, known as the DREAM 9, were aware of the risks. They are part of a grass roots organization called the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), which has staged similar types of protests to bring awareness to our broken immigration system. Marco has experienced a voluntary detainment in a deportation prison before. He underwent this risky process in order to encourage his fellow immigrants on the inside, and to raise awareness of the problems of the deportation process.

The current protest by the DREAM 9 has garnered national attention. Thirty five members of congress have petitioned the President to use his discretion to allow their release. They have also gathered a petition of over 27,000 people that will be delivered to the White House this week. The goal of their action has been to try and put a human face to a contentious political issue.

Marco’s story sparked some interesting conversation among those of us at the summer institute. Some of the folks I talked with thought that he was undertaking some unnecessary risks. One participant questioned the validity of their grievances on the grounds that immigration laws need to exist and be enforced.

Marco’s story, however, brought the conversation to a new level. By hearing about his experiences we had the opportunity to see the people behind the issue. We heard about the heartache he and others experienced when their families were torn apart because of deportation. We learned about the ways in which immigrant detainees are denied access to their legal rights and often experience abuse while in detention. In fact, for the past 15 days 2 of the DREAM 9 activists have been held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. We were forced to wrestle with Marco’s statement that he committed his crime when he was only 2 years old. Even though he had spent his whole life in American and graduated from college, he has lived in constant fear of deportation, and has been limited in his access to employment.

I recognize that this is a hot political issue these days. I also acknowledge that we need immigration laws. All countries have an immigration process. I have personally been through the process both when Julie immigrated to Canada and when I went through the long ordeal of trying to immigrate to the US.

The witness of Marco and the DREAM 9, however, remind us that we need to approach this conversation with a deeper level of empathy. Laws are needed, but they also must be evaluated and held up to the standards of human rights. Segregation, after all, was legal at one point, until brave activists exposed the oppression inherent in the law.

When we forget about the people behind the issue, our conversation can easily become overly simplistic and dehumanizing. Congressman Steve King, for example, recently compared immigrants to dogs. When I was still waiting on my papers to come to the US I had a conversation about immigration with a man who literally said to me, “i don’t know what we should do about all these illegals, maybe we should just point and shoot.” I decided that that was probably not the best time to tell him that I had not secured my legal status to the US yet!

This conversation was particularly troubling to me because it was coming from a man who was professing to be a Christian. Had I been more prepared I would have brought to his attention the consistent call in scripture to care for the alien and the foreigner. Below are just a sample of some of these texts.

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Le 19:33–34).

 “You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.” (Dt 24:17–18).

“For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.” (Je 7:5–7)

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger (or foreigner) and you welcomed me.” (Mt 25:34–35)

As we seek to live faithfully as Christians in this world, may we pay attention to scripture and remember the people that stand behind the issues we debate! These are important conversations to have, and I do not have a definitive answer for what immigration reform should look like. All I know is that this is not just an issue anymore. This is also about a guy named Marco who has been in solitary confinement in Arizona for the last two weeks. If you want to get more involved in supporting Marco and the DREAM 9 check out this following link.


  1. I am amazed that we have not taken a page from the German experience in the 1970s. I remember the frequent news coverage of judges refusing deportation to adults from other countries who had come to Germany as infants and never returned to their parents” (now German citizens) homeland. The rulings were humanitarian in nature – not to send (for one example) a “Turk” who has never been a “Turk”, but was totally, culturally, a functioning German, back to Turkey. It was considered to be cruel and inhuman to send such a Person back to a country where he would now be a complete alien.


    Jim MacGregor

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Jim. That is a really important historical comparison to bring into the conversation.


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