Putting names on immigrant faces

Immigrants are often in the news. Most recent was the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling on President Trump’s order imposing a travel ban on people from six predominantly Muslim countries. The court’s ruling temporarily allows the ban to stand against anyone who does not have “a bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States.”

Before that, the news told of 114 Iraqi immigrants arrested June 11 in Detroit and detained in centers in Ohio, Louisiana and Arizona. On June 23, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit issued a two-week stay of their deportations, citing their claim that they risk being tortured or persecuted if sent to Iraq. Many of those detained are Chaldean Christians.

In a June 19 letter to John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, the U.S. bishops’ conference wrote, “We strongly encourage you to exercise the discretion available to you under law, to defer the deportation of persons to Iraq, particularly Christians and Chaldean Catholics, who pose no threat to U.S. public safety, until such time as the situation in Iraq stabilizes and its government proves willing and capable of protecting the rights of religious minorities.”

The letter’s signatories included Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president.

These Iraqi immigrants share a similar story to the 11 million Syrians who have fled their homeland since 2011. And, while not as prominently in the news at the moment, there are many others who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to flee drug cartels or human trafficking.

How we respond to people who flee their homelands is a question with which many Americans and western Europeans struggle. The immigration issue played a role in France’s recent election and was a key issue fueling Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last year.

While the question of “illegal vs. legal” often arises, most people don’t doubt that most immigrants want to enter their new homeland through proper channels. But things don’t always work out neatly, and the legalization process can be long and hard; most of us would agree it needs streamlining.

Immigrants and refugees have been with us since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden. And most often, they have lacked proper papers.

As always, putting faces on refugees and giving names to immigrants helps us see them as real people and helps us know what is right to do in helping them.

Here’s a story: A married couple — well-off in their beloved homeland — were forced to leave because a severe drought destroyed their farm, like the Dust Bowl did to many U.S. families in the 1930s. Eli and Naomi fled to a neighboring country and raised their two boys there as best they could. Their sons later married local women.

Ten years later, Eli and his sons were dead. Their wives were widows, with no income. Naomi decided to return to her homeland, hoping to find a relative who might take her in. She told her daughters-in-law to remain in their native land and find new husbands. One agreed. The second refused and chose to become a refugee herself so that Naomi would not travel alone.

The two women lived on charity, scraping by on the equivalent of what food pantries in our country offer today, until Naomi finally located a relative.

The story had a happy ending for both women. The younger married into Naomi’s family and eventually had a baby boy. We know her name also: Ruth. Her husband was Boaz and they became the great-grandparents of a king: King David of Israel.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, 43.3 million immigrants lived in the U.S. in 2015. That same year, Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24. Part of his speech should remind us that, even though 3,000-plus years have passed since Naomi was a refugee/immigrant, we are still called to offer food and refuge to those in need.

“When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past,” Pope Francis said in 2015. “We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us.”

After all, you never know whose great-grandmother might show up at the door?