Immigration is one of the greatest moral challenges of our time. I am convinced that one of the main ways the New Testament teaches that God will judge us is on the issue of how we care for strangers in our midst.
Recently in our clinic, I saw José, a 53-year-old Mexican man who came to Memphis in 1999. Fifteen years ago, with his wife and four small children, he crossed a desert at night for the sole purpose of finding a better life for his family.
He was not looking to break any laws. He was prepared to work hard and be part of a community, which is exactly what he has done.
For years, the stress of being deported weighed on him. He turned to alcohol to relax, yet he was anxious every time he heard a knock at his door. He became paranoid.
Two years ago, he was stopped and arrested while driving under the influence. That set into motion a deportation hearing. A year ago, he had a psychotic break and was admitted to a local mental health facility. The medication he received there stopped the voices he heard. But then, the medication ran out. Now the voices are back, which was why his family brought him to see me.
José speaks little English, so his daughter-in-law translated for me. She is married to his oldest son, who was 12 when his parents lead the family across the border to the U.S. She met her husband in high school. She is a young, blonde Southern woman who has taught herself Spanish. She married José’s son five years ago, and together they have two (very cute) little girls.
The deportation has been put off until January 2015 because her husband – Jose’s son – developed Leukemia this March. He had been the sole breadwinner of the family until he got sick. Now, everyone is trying to scramble for a few dollars any way they can.
When the father is deported in January, his wife will go back to Mexico with him, even though she has not been ordered to leave. After all, she is his wife.
My thoughts kept returning to José’s son, who came to the U.S. as a child.
I asked the daughter-in-law, “Surely your husband is now legal since he is married to you? He was 12 when he came to the U.S., and he was following his parents.”
“No,” she said. “They have changed the law.”
She explained that since he came here illegally, he must return to Mexico and apply for readmission to the U.S. and pay a steep fine.
“But,” I said, “he is married to you, and you and your children are American. You are all dependent on him to support you, at least until he gets well.”
“The law has changed,” she insisted. “He must go back to Mexico and pay the fine.”
“How much?,” I asked. “
“Fifteen thousand dollars.”
I was speechless, but I returned to the issue at hand, José’s care. I arranged for him to see our Spanish-speaking counselor and wrote a prescription for his medication.
“We only need the medicine until January 21st,” his daughter-in-law said. Her words made me sick to my stomach then, and they still do.
How can any of this be right or just? It is wrong at every turn.
The troubles of this family extend to making fatherless and husbandless a woman from Memphis and her two children and will make them penniless as well if they want to see the man they love who also has Leukemia.
While the politics of immigration are above my pay grade, I trust our president is doing what is lawful and is motivated by what is morally right. I am sure that my position is driven by asking, “What would Jesus do?” and by reading the Bible that over and over tells us that we are to be hospitable to strangers. The Old Testament reminds us that the Jews were once strangers in a strange land in Egypt and that the children of God are to welcome the person who is without a home into our homes. We are told that when we care for strangers, we are welcoming angels unaware.
I am confident that our desire to provide care for those in our community who have crossed a desert at night and who are working and living in our community as our neighbors, has the full weight of the Gospel behind it.
That’s why we at the Church Health Center will stand in harmony with this family.