Treat Them As Your Native Born

As you may have heard, the United States elected a new president in November 2016. Since then, JFON, immigrants, and immigrant advocates/service providers around the country (not to mention people all over the world) have been dealing with the implications of the 3 immigration-related executive orders that he signed. I am by no means an expert, but: The executive orders essentially called for the completion of the southern border wall, ended federal funding to sanctuary cities, put all 11 million undocumented people in the US at greater risk for deportation, and banned immigrants from 7 Muslim countries.

At South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors, I have been receiving more and more desperate phone calls from people who are deeply afraid. So many people in Miami-Dade County need free immigration legal assistance, but every non-profit in the area is overbooked and unable to accept most new cases on a long-term basis.

To make matters worse, in January, Mayor Gimenez announced “that Miami-Dade County would not fight the President’s [sanctuary city] order, which demands local law enforcement work with federal immigration officials when it comes to turning over illegal immigrants when they have been arrested.” (Arrested, but not necessarily convicted!?) Miami-Dade commissioners upheld this decision on Friday.

Almost everyone, it seems, is afraid of something, either for oneself or for another loved one: ICE raids, repercussions for driving without a license (something that is out of reach for undocumented immigrants living in Florida), racial profiling, rough treatment by ICE officers, calling the police to report a crime or in situations of domestic violence (for fear of deportation), deportation, facing the nightmares fled in home countries, etc.

I recently visited a couple of immigrants who were being detained inside of the Krome Service Processing Center, as part of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees’ volunteer program. During this time, I learned that they were seeing the first Cubans be detained, a result of President Obama’s decision to end the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy.

I read yesterday that 680 Cubans have been returned home since the end of that policy. Maybe”Wet Foot, Dry Foot” was only put into place all of those years ago to make Cuba look bad. Maybe it was unfair to allow Cubans to become LPRs after a year, while many other immigrant groups struggle and, as a whole, often have no legal remedies in the US, at least according to what I’ve seen. But, both as an American and as a Christian, I find myself growing increasingly frustrated whenever we make it more difficult for immigrants to come to the US.

As an American, I remember that my great-grandfather immigrated to the US illegally from Norway. I remember that we live on stolen land. I remember that I did absolutely nothing to become an American. There is no “American culture.” There is no national language. There is no government-sanctioned religious persecution. There is only the American dream, community, and a hope for a better tomorrow. And that, to me, makes America great. Our diversity makes America great. Immigrants make America great. We will forever be stronger together, and keeping people out, and holding people back, will only lead to a less bright future for us all. We must choose to lead from a place of love together and not from a place of fear alone.

As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is pretty clear that we should welcome the stranger and the refugee: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

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It has been such a blessing to work with our clients as we navigate the Immigration system together. They have taught me so much about life and about resilience. I hope everyone who reads this has a similar opportunity to learn from immigrants in her community. And who knows? Maybe if you take a risk and show hospitality to a stranger, you may even end up entertaining angels without realizing it.

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Emily Kvalheim

GMF US-2, Class of 2015-2017

South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors

Miami-Dade County, FL

#3022060

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