I decided to interview actual immigrants about immigration

ellis-island-immagration

I decided to interview actual immigrants about immigration. 

What I learned was…interesting. 

If you watch the news and read through social media the general idea being propagated is this:  all immigrants want the borders wide open, and angry conservatives dislike immigrants and want the borders closed.  Like many, my trust of the news is dwindling fast, and social media is predominantly full of reactionary people who just want to be heard.  If I really wanted to learn about immigrants who live in the Indianapolis area, I had one option left.  Meet them. So, I did and it changed my perspective completely.

Over the last year I have sat down with about a dozen immigrants from different parts of the world who now reside in Indianapolis. 

I ought to offer a disclaimer.  Obviously, this isn’t “real” research.  I wasn’t out to collect statistics for a research paper, but to understand people.  I wanted to hear their stories and understand their hearts, not collect data points.  This wasn’t a double-blind research project, but an open-eyed beginning and honest start to what I hope will become real and lasting friendships.

If you are one of the people I met with, I am so grateful for your willingness to meet with me and to teach me.  Because of the time we spent together, I am a better person.

So, let’s jump into what I found.

Do all immigrants want open borders?  

It’s complicated.  It really seems to depend on what part of the world they are from.  There were some refugees I met with who want the borders tighter for reasons I probably shouldn’t share in a blog.  No one seemed to want totally open borders.  What people want is clarity.  What emerged from these conversations is something I didn’t expect, something we haven’t heard from the media or considered – cultural preservation, both theirs and ours.  They are most interested in what it means to BE American.  This led to new questions I didn’t expect to ask.

Do immigrants want to change American culture?  

Again, it’s complicated, but mostly NO, they don’t.  In fact, they have come here BECAUSE of the culture.  They don’t want to lose their roots, but mostly they DO NOT want America to become like the country they came from.  What was most interesting here is the stark contrast between what disgruntled Americans say immigrants want, and what the ones I talked to actually want.  My guess is there are some angry Americans using immigrants to push a personal agenda.

Are immigrants politically liberal or conservative?  

I went ahead and asked about hot topics in most of the conversations.  Abortion, sexual identity, etc.  Again, I was surprised.  Even non-Christian immigrants were mostly politically conservative.  In some cases VERY conservative. Though the liberal camp has claimed immigrants as theirs, they absolutely do not represent them on most fronts. Even some of the non-Christian immigrants seem to align more on the political conservative side on most issues. Honestly, this surprised me. National news led me to believe this would not be true.

What amazed me most was a few of them said if they could have voted, they would have voted for Trump over Clinton.

You may need to read that last sentence again; when I heard it I was shocked. I was so surprised, I asked for clarity.

There were three things that emerged. First, they really are politically conservative on most fronts. Moral obligations, like abortion, are a big deal.  Second, those in the process of naturalization have worked hard to honor the law.  Some felt it unfair for others to be granted that status without some level of “reasonable” effort, while others felt the process was impossible and too expensive.  Third, refugees are a subset of the immigration situation.  We can’t lump them in with other immigrants.  Their needs are very different. Some truly are fleeing persecution and need asylum and protection.

The bottom line is this:  it’s really complicated.  Postings on social media like “open the borders” or “close the borders” show ignorance.

There is so much more to say, but overall I found the conversation truly enlightening.  There are some amazing people right here in our own communities. Like the immigrants who have lived in America for a few generations (most of us) they came to the U.S. for similar reasons like religious freedom and/or a better standard of living.

What should our government do?  I am not sure.  It truly is complicated.  What should I do as a pastor, and what should my church do?  Some things are clear. We will love the sojourner (Exodus 22:21).  We will help those in need (Matthew 25:35). We will treat all people as valued children of God (Matthew 25:40) created in His image (Gen 1:27).  I am proud to say our church employs immigrants and is working hard to help them.  We are not afraid.  We are honored to love all of God’s people.

I purposefully don’t offer any “real” research in this blog. My intent is to re-humanize rhetoric and flawed stats because it’s not an abstract issue – it’s about real people and complicated situations.

I don’t have easy answers and I don’t know your context or city.

I do know that people matter. I am doing life differently as a result of making new friends. I am going forward by building relationships with the amazing people that have come from all around the world.  When I was younger I wanted to go be a missionary.  It appears God has brought the mission field to our doorstep.  I am choosing to engage.

Will you join me?

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