Cedarville University’s G92 Immigration Conference on Oct. 19-21 was meant to shed new light on the issue of immigration.
Carlos Campo, Shane Claiborne, and Jim Wallis spoke on Thursday, each focusing on an aspect of immigration reform.
Campo, president of Regent University, said the immigration issue is a difficult one to fit into words.
“What is the issue? I’m not going to try to define it,” he said.
Campo, Cuban by heritage, was born in Miami, Florida. His father came to the states after a New York club owner who had seen him dance in Havana approached him. Campo said his father sought to be somewhere where his art could find new definition – and that somewhere was America.
“What motivates immigrants to come is important,” Campo said.
Campo said he had never been to Cuba since embargoed in the early 60s. He noted that all he really had of his homeland was his innately Spanish name – Carlos Campo – and yet his name was still enough to invoke prejudice.
Early on, he spoke no Spanish as his parents were trying to learn English; he didn’t even inherit his father’s dark skin, he said. But Campo learned to hide from his heritage, he said, until later years. He referenced Arthur Miller’s first novel, titled “Focus,” which centers on a man’s prejudices of his Jewish neighbors. It isn’t until the main character is mistaken as a Jew that he begins to understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of the hatred, Campo said.
Campo said that his name, not who he was as a person, caused people to write him off. However, when Campo began teaching, he realized a number of Latinos were taking his classes. When he asked them why they’d chosen his class, he said, they responded that they took the class simply because they’d seen his Spanish name and thought he might understand them.
Campo called conference attendees to be the generation that would break what he called the “cradle to prison chains.” He set forth the challenge to make access to America open not in politically correct ways, “but so that we may sit before the Throne.”
The next speaker, Shane Claiborne from east Tennessee, is an author and the founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He put forth a charge to students, challenging them to change the way Christians are defined.
“We are so good at excluding the very people who are special to God,” Claiborne said. He referenced the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, noting that the rich man, who did not show love to Lazarus, was not even given a name in the text. The rich man was religious, Claiborne pointed out, but that religion did nothing. Christians are called to welcome the strangers, no matter who they are, he said.
Claiborne’s focus on the homeless of this nation brought the issue of immigration home. He told the story of a woman he met on the streets who he invited to his home for a meal. She noticed the glow in Claiborne’s eyes and knew he was a Christian, Claiborne recounted. Weeks later, the woman returned with a new glow in her own eyes, he said.
“We miss the idea that God is hospitable,” Claiborne said. “We’re all illegal in the kingdom of God. Someone had to pave the way for us. Someone had to sneak us in.”
Another speaker, founder of Sojourners Jim Wallis, rounded out the evening by speaking mainly on the evangelical’s approach to immigration in light of the political system. He began by reiterating a point Claiborne had made just minutes before, that people don’t understand what believers mean when they say they are Christians.
“Christian colleges have a job: to clear up the confusion of what we mean when we say ‘Christian faith,’” Wallis said.
He talked about Bernard Pastor, then 18-years-old, who was arrested after a minor traffic accident because he was undocumented. Pastor had never seen his homeland, Wallis said, but he was nevertheless held in a detention facility before being released due to overwhelming protest from his neighbors, friends and strangers alike.
“When the law is really hurting people … you break it,” Wallis said.
Wallis also explained the harshness of new immigration laws passed in states like Arizona and Alabama.
“They’re making Christian ministry illegal,” Wallis said. It is now against the law in Arizona to harbor and transport undocumented immigrants — including bringing them to and from church, Wallis said.
Throughout his address, Wallis mentioned a woman he had known who was impoverished but still handed out bags of groceries every week to the homeless. She prayed a prayer each week, a prayer Wallis implored conference attendees to remember: “Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this line today. Help us to treat you well.”
At the conference on Friday were prominent speakers such as Alejandro Mandes, executive director for Immigrant Hope, and Jason L. Riley, senior editorial page writer and member of the Editorial Board for Wall Street Journal.
Alejandro Mandes said he was raised on the border, swimming “back and forth all the time.” His childhood helped him realize his passion for undocumented immigrants.
When he spoke Friday morning, he addressed immigration from a theological view, indicating that Christ-followers should choose a wider framework for this topic – “the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.”
He stressed the importance of Matthew 28, which commands believers to make disciples of all people, not only legal people.
“As Christ-followers, our focus must shift from nationalism to the Great Commission,” Mandes said.
He said he does not ask Christians to turn a blind eye to law breaking. “We must never deny that illegal immigrants are breaking the law,” he said. “But it is legal to evangelize; it is legal to make disciples and it is legal to be compassionate. What the law says is that it’s illegal for us to hire them.”
Mandes cited Paul’s epistle to Philemon as a prime example of a Christian’s dealings with an illegal immigrant. Onesimus was a runaway slave, out of his country, who encountered Paul. Instead of turning him in immediately, which would have been legal protocol, Mandes said Paul loved, evangelized and discipled him. Only after this Paul sent Onesimus back to his master, Philemon. This is the Christian model Mandes asks believers to follow.
When considering college students, Mandes said he had a special charge for Cedarville students: “Open your eyes, being open to whoever God brings into your presence.” He also asked that students join the cause, Immigration Hope. Finally, he asked that students stop “laughing at jokes that aren’t funny” — those made at the expense of a specific ethnic group.
But Mandes said viewing immigration theologically does not mean “burying your head in the sand” about the truths of the immigration issue.
Jason L Riley, senior editorial page writer forWall Street Journal, gave a historical and economical case for immigration reform on Friday afternoon.
He first addressed the misconception that illegal immigrants are detrimental to America’s economy, stating that “immigration and economic growth go hand in hand.”
“The U.S. is a magnet for people looking for work, not handouts,” he said and explained that undocumented immigrants do not draw from America’s economy without putting back into it. He indicated that the opposite was true.
Illegal immigrants pay more money in taxes than they collect in any type of benefits, Riley said. The argument that immigrants are worthless for the U.S. economy’s growth is faulty.
If people define a worthless citizen as one who collects more from the system than he is putting into it, then Riley said it is not immigrants but about 60 percent of American citizens who are ‘worthless’ to society. However, Christians would never consider this 60 percent to be worthless, Riley said, and neither should they consider the undocumented immigrants worthless — those who pay taxes and won’t risk discovery by applying for government benefits.
Riley later addressed the history of immigration in America and how strongly debated the topic has been.
“America has been through all this before,” he said. “With each new wave there is the fear that they will change us instead of us changing them.”
Riley talked about Benjamin Franklin, one of the most enlightened men of his day, and his words about the German immigrants: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”
The Irish immigrants fleeing a potato famine, Polish immigrants seeking religious protection and greater freedom, and Italian immigrants coming to make money and return home all had a commonality, Riley said. They were all aliens in a new land, each facing rejection.
In summary, Riley said, “Today’s Latino immigrants aren’t any different, they’re just newer.”