Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has called undocumented immigrants in America potential rapists and murderers. And yet, even with Trump's impeccably low standards on immigration, things just got worse. He recently released his immigration plan that includes the following:
- Forcing Mexico to build a wall along the entire border.
- Removing every single undocumented immigrant from America.
- Abolishing the 14th Amendment that grants naturalised citizenship to the children of immigrants.
Trump's obsession with nationalism is a nightmare for undocumented immigrants in America, especially the Latin Americans who have born the brunt of his extreme rhetoric. Even worse, many Republican candidates are noticing the traction that Trump has gained with his harsh, anti-immigrant remarks and are slow to outline any potential immigration plans that could be perceived as compromises that fall short of treating immigrants as enemies of the right wing oligarchy paradise Trump envisions.
As if that isn't bad enough, Trump has polled extremely well among evangelical Christians despite his dehumanising views on immigrants and, comically enough, not even knowing a single verse from the Bible.
(As an aside, may I suggest a Bible verse for Mr Trump? It's short enough that even a busy man like him could memorize it: "Jesus wept.")
While some evangelical leaders had been at the forefront of calls for immigration reform a few years ago, Trump's strongest base of support appears to be the evangelical heartland of America where upwards of 30,000 have turned out for his rallies. As crowds presumably full of Christians cheer on Trump's dehumanising rhetoric, we may well understand why many Christians across America and around the world, especially Latino believers, may despair.
It's been a long month for immigration reform advocates in America, especially for Christians working on reform. However, all is not lost. In fact, right below the surface of the most conservative bastions in America, there's a Christian-led movement providing legal assistance to immigrants right in their church buildings.
Allies for immigrants
A network of denominations, including many in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, banded together in 2013 in order to form The Immigration Alliance. The network trains local churches to provide low-cost, high quality legal services for immigrants.
Denominations involved in hosting and supporting the Immigration Alliance include the Wesleyan Church, Evangelical Free Church, The Assemblies of God, the Anglican Church of North America, the Free Methodist Church, and the Church of the Nazarene. According to the Immigration Alliance website, immigrants can now receive the following services at 33 certified locations:
- low-cost legal counseling on immigration-related matters;
- support in determining eligibility for benefits;
- assistance in preparing applications for legal immigration status;
- immigration support to victims of crime and domestic violence; and
- assistance in reuniting families.
The Bridge Church in Logansport, Indiana is one such Immigration Alliance congregation that sought training and certification in immigration law in order to provide legal support for immigrants who may otherwise remain undocumented or endure deportation. This small congregation has become an important fixture in its community and for surrounding cities where immigrants in dire need of legal help can turn for assistance.
Moreover, among the Wesleyan Church alone, a 2008 resolution on immigration calling for a biblical and compassionate approach to immigration passed with 96 per cent in favor of the motion.
With these notable exceptions in mind, even the general trends on immigration aren't quite so disheartening despite the ongoing gridlock in Congress over immigration.
Christians are hardly uniform on immigration
Even if Trump can rally large crowds in the south that may well be majority Christian, the latest study from the Pew Research Center suggests American Christians are roughly divided on immigration. For instance, when it comes to increased deportations of undocumented immigrants, Protestants are divided 46 per cent in favor and 44 per cent against, while Catholics are split 47 per cent in favor and 46 per cent against.
Mind you, these numbers aren't quite so encouraging if you break things down to the level of white evangelical Protestants who are split 51 per cent for and 41 per cent against increased deportations. Nevertheless, these numbers may help us find our footing amid the soaring rhetoric on the right against immigrants.
In fact, a deeper analysis of Trump's polling among evangelicals reveals that, at best, he's won over 1 in 5 evangelicals, most likely those affiliated with the hardened right of the movement allied with the likes of Pat Robertson that hardly capture the center of American evangelicalism. We could say that Trump's "lead" among evangelicals has more to do with the failure of another contender to consolidate a following among evangelicals registered as Republicans.
While we have no control over the political currents that send a character like Trump to the top of the polls, we can take heart that the majority of the general public in America remains open to immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. In addition, a strong coalition of Christians are committed to the gospel work of caring for the immigrant and providing hospitality for those in need.
Thankfully stories like the Good Samaritan and events like Pentecost have a staying power among God's people, no matter who is leading in the polls this week.
Ed Cyzewski (MDiv) is the author of Coffeehouse Theology, A Christian Survival Guide, and The Good News of Revelation. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com.