Written by Sarah Dougan and Sara Williams
The Student Government Association’s panel on immigration issues Wednesday, Dec. 3 encouraged system reform and action from the church, with panelists emphasizing the personhood of immigrants.
“Immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people,” said panelist Dr. David Drury, who is the Chief of Staff to Dr. Jo Anne Lyon in the General Superintendent’s Office of the Wesleyan Church.
Later on in the forum, Drury added, “I don’t know a lot of people who know people who are undocumented and do not have compassion for their situation.”
Dr. Brian Fry, a panelist from the Sociology department, also said change must be made because people are coming, and will continue to come “so long as you have economic disparity between the United States and Mexico.”
The average wage for a worker goes from $6 to $8 when workers move from Mexico to the US, according to Dr. Tom Lehman, an economics professor here at IWU who also served on the panel.
Fry went on to say, “As someone builds a 10-foot wall, people build a 11-foot ladder.”
According to Dr. Tom Lehman, 10 percent, (around 30 million people), living in the U.S. are foreign-born. Of these foreign-born U.S. residents, 10 million are undocumented, and of these undocumented individuals, 5.6 million are Mexican.
Panelists also brought up how immigration is not only a problem in the U.S. but also in other countries, including Mexico. In Mexico, as many people are leaving as are coming in from other South American countries, according to Drury.
Both Fry and Lehman said with immigration, the benefits on the economy outweigh the negatives. Lehman said most of the jobs Americans are either under or overqualified for are taken by immigrants.
Panelist Raleigh Macon (so) stated there are only 5,000 low-skill visas issued by the U.S. for the entire world per year. Lehman pointed out even though immigrants don’t pay income tax, they do still pay other ones, such as sales taxes and property taxes.
The common statement toward immigrants of “they should just wait in line along with everyone else” was also discussed by the panel members.
Fry said the waiting list for legal migration can take more than 35 years. Macon added, “This morning as we were in class” the visa applications reviewed were from 1991.
Because the waiting list for legal immigration is so long, immigrants are willing to risk more dangerous means of arriving in the US, hiring coyotes who can charge thousands of dollars to smuggle immigrants illegally, according to Macon.
She also stressed how undocumented immigration through any means, using coyotes or otherwise, is very dangerous. An estimated 1,500 to 3,000 die in the U.S. each year, though the exact number is not known, since many bodies are lost or unidentifiable.
Though many panelists agreed the system is broken — or “antiquated and outdated” according to Liz Dong, Assistant Field Director at Immigration Table for World Relief — there were some disagreements as to what these changes should be, specifically concerning how tightly the border should be secured.
Fry said he believes in a regulated border, but a better, more organized and open system. He thinks this is better for everyone, including immigrants.
In response, Lehman said “I want the borders as open as possible. I want to go back to the Ellis Island days,” citing Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” which describes the U.S. as not only for the “best” immigrants, but also a beacon of hope to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The panel members also discussed the religious implications of immigration within the church.
Dong said over 80 percent of immigrants are believers and “brothers in Christ.” Macon said, from personal experience, most of the undocumented immigrants she knows are driven by 1Timothy 5:8, which says: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (NIV)
Fry said 40 percent of immigration is in some way family driven.
According to Macon, only around 1 in 10 people in protestant churches are making an effort to reach out to the immigrant population. She went on to say she believes reaching out immigrants is part of the Great Commission. She said the church was sent to the nations, but now the nations have come to the American church.
During the talkback portion of the panel, students asked ways in which individuals and the church can become involved in the issue of immigration.
Dong called for unification in the church about helping immigrants by saying, “If our laws are causing people to live in shadows … we should care about that.”
Dr. Drury mentioned the Wesley Seminary is hosting a class in May 2015 aimed at the issue of immigration and how the church can become an advocate for change.