How we can respond to immigrants among us

Source: The Wenatchee World

These are anxious days for the immigrant neighbors in our midst and how we choose to treat them as a community will either allow us to see them as human beings worthy of dignity and respect or isolate and dehumanize them and solidify the sense of separation that exists. 

Ultimately, the question is whether we will choose kindness or we will choose fear, anger and blame. It bears remembering that besides our Native American neighbors, all of our families are immigrants in this land.

It is undeniable that the election rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump has created a very unsettled atmosphere for our immigrant neighbors. The progress that has been made in creating a more welcoming attitude in this country in recent years has been dealt a serious setback.

Trump’s post election plans remain a mystery. He has alternatively suggested rounding up and deporting all 11 million or so undocumented workers in the country or just two to three million who he says are criminals. It’s not clear whether he’s referring to people who have unpaid parking tickets or serious offenders.

Of particular interest is how his administration will treat the so-called Dreamers, those who were brought to this country as youngsters and who have no connection to their place of birth. Under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, these individuals registered and can continue to live in this country. Trump has taken a variety of positions ranging from ending the program immediately to possibly continuing the program.

No wonder there is tremendous fear and anxiety in the immigrant community, and in North Central Washington, the vast majority are Latino.

I spoke with pastors Misael Fajardo-Perez and Dave Haven last week about what they are experiencing in the community and the ways they are addressing these challenges with their congregations.

Fajardo-Perez is with the Lutheran Latino Ministry here in the valley and Haven is with Celebration Lutheran Church.

The irony is that we have a financially strong agricultural industry because of undocumented immigrants, thanks to our broken immigration system and a gridlocked political system. We owe much of our prosperity to these immigrants who were hired on by business owners who had no choice but to use their labor to survive financially.

Don’t we owe these individuals respect and a level of understanding rather than just labeling them “illegal” and telling them to get to the back of the immigration line? Doesn’t calling them “illegal” tend to dehumanize them?

And that’s what Haven, Fajardo-Perez and I spoke about during out conversation that was captured on camera. It was our way to start talking about this sensitive subject and exploring some of the dynamics. Perhaps it’s the start of a dialogue that will help us tone down the rhetoric and listen to each other.

Fajardo-Perez said it’s important that we see the “humanity in every person,” regardless of their circumstance. Haven agreed, recalling how Jesus welcomed strangers. They also spoke of our communities including those who are undocumented and not leaving out people in that circumstance.

Unfortunately, a small number of people in our community have taken the anti-immigrant rhetoric and felt emboldened to verbally attack some of our Latino neighbors. My question to these two pastors was how our community can thoughtfully respond to this situation.

The election, Haven said, seems to have awakened or reawakened an anti-immigrant sentiment. “It is disconcerting to know that we’re at this place. … In a country that, at least on our Statue of Liberty says that we’re welcoming,” he said.

Celebration Lutheran is taking steps to connect the church with immigrants in the community. On one recent Sunday, the church invited immigrants to share their experiences in hopes that it will help to build awareness and a sense of solidarity.

Fajardo-Perez , who is deeply connected to the immigrant community, said he’s spending a lot of time trying to calm fears and to encourage people to not panic. He tells them they are valued in our community and that the church is there for them. Anything that divides us impacts the whole community.

What do Haven and Fajardo-Perez suggest we do to respond to this situation?

First, they encourage us all of reach out in kindness to neighbors in our community from different cultures, attend cross-cultural events and get to know some of our immigrant neighbors, such as at Los Posadas, a multicultural event at the Wenatchee Community Center on Sunday, Dec. 18 from 6-8 p.m.

Finally, they remind us that we all have immigrant stories and to choose kindness and understanding when dealing with everyone in our community. 

This is the first of a series of columns in which I will reach out and try to understand community perspectives. If you have suggestions or comments, please email me at rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com.

 

rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com

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