As we prepare for the Christmas season, the concept of a young couple expecting a child, fleeing persecution, desperately looking for shelter and finally finding it through the kindness of strangers is a story that is universally celebrated. In this city of churches, you will likely see nativity scenes all around town like the one at my church, The Grove in East Charlotte. What you won’t see in the scenes, however, is significant time exploring the immigration status of these refugees we now call Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. We simply know this family was treated the way the Bible calls its followers to treat refugees.
While his reason for doing so wasn’t faith-based, I want to commend Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden on following through on his campaign promise to end 287g, the controversial policy that pushed local law enforcement to double dip into the business of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Law enforcement officials complained that it created less trust between them and the immigrant community. I’ve seen it lead victims of domestic violence to remain silent, while also creating unnecessary fear for students and their families. I had a mother tell me that her internationally adopted children always carried their passports to school due to deportation fears.
I’m grateful for the bravery of people like Stefania Artega and Oliver Merino, who worked with Comunidad Collectiva to elevate this issue. And while they lead this work, as a Christian, I refuse to let them carry it alone.
I’ve heard people say, “I love Jesus; it’s his followers that I have a problem with.” As someone who has grown up as an avid and active Christian, this once bothered me. However, as someone who now sees the public representation of what most loudly represents Christianity, I get it. Many of us proclaiming to represent Christianity spend infinite time on what the Bible speaks so little of (if at all), like gay marriage, while spending minimal time on what the Bible mentions so much, like immigration.
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While many quote Leviticus 18 on homosexuality, few quote Leviticus 19 on immigration: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
In a community where nearly 20 percent of our residents are foreign born, we aren’t simply talking about figurative neighbors. Whether through school, work or other connections, these 20 percent, regardless of status, are our neighbors. And before you jump to the quick defense of “how your grandparents migrated legally,” understand that their story may be amazing, but this arbitrary distinction was based on your grandparents fitting a selected demographic of racial/ethnic engineering of the time, nothing more, nothing less. They’re special because they’re your grandparents. They aren’t special because of their immigration status.
While I find it important to stand with Stefania, Oliver, and others as a Christian, I find it equally important to do so as a black man. Systemic racism has historically pitted the Latinx and African-American communities against each other. I refuse to join in scapegoating another brown-skinned community for deep-rooted societal issues that are more homegrown than imported. I maintain room in the inn for José, Maria, and Jesus and look forward to mutually improved black/brown relations. May Sheriff McFadden’s policy change be a first step.