Monday evening, when I entered my class of "Who is Jesus" at the Leland Center, I could not anticipate I would not be able to deliver my prepared notes. Students prevented it when they began to discuss among themselves the nuances and implications of illegal immigration in this country.
After a while, when the discussion was already hot, I said to them: "Here we are, studying who is Jesus. What would you say Jesus would have done if he was one of us here today?"
I can only say I was very pleased to see how 14 students preparing for ministry dealt with a complex issue for the entire duration of class. It was one of those serendipitous moments when a teacher retreats into silence listening to lady Wisdom pushing her way through the lips of open-eyed students.
The immigration system of the United States is a complex matter. The reasons why illegal immigrants have come to number more than 10 million in the past years cannot be reduced to a mere question of faulty border controls.
Envisioning solutions to this Gordian knot entails more than just enforcing the laws or deciding whether to apply an amnesty.
Resolving the immigration issue demands understanding the deep reasons for the migration of peoples (the 20th century has been described as the century of migrations), understanding a globalized economy, giving careful consideration to geopolitics and applying to all of that a great deal of concern and imagination.
Yet, it appears most of those charged with crafting the policies of the U.S.A. do not seem to understand the complexity of the problem. The solutions of building a wall in the Southern frontier or creating a guest-worker program are just band-aids to a disease that will get worse if not addressed in its global deep roots and causes.
How does the U.S.A. fit into the 90 million workers around the globe who left their homes for employment in other countries? The U.S.A. is not the only country in the world where these migration phenomena are happening.
Since this problem of global migrations has not been addressed by lawmakers, now--as this Latino illegal immigration problem comes to the forefront--legislators do not seem to be well-equipped to address its real causes.
When dealing with illegal immigration, we must cure the disease, not only treat the symptoms. An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, who represent almost the 25 percent of all immigrants in the U.S., are a clear symptom that something in the immigration policy of the country is deeply wrong.
Addressing the real issue requires a profound analysis of the causes and effects of labor migration, so that legislators can draft sustainable policies that will be at the same time fair to the migrants and useful to the interests of the country.
Anything less will not solve the problem. It may relieve the symptoms for a while but will not answer the essential question of why people move in mass from one country to another. Nor will it solve the problem of illegal immigration to this country.
We are dealing here with millions of people who have come to this country attracted by true possibilities and promises of well-being and progress. The illegal immigration cannot be blamed on the immigrants.
The labor migrant is responsible of him/herself indeed, yet the causes that attract a person to the U.S. cannot be blamed on the person him/herself.
We have to recognize that it has been in the interest of the government, as well as corporations and special interest groups in this country, to attract illegal immigration. If anyone, they are the ones to blame for breaking the law, not the poor migrant who knows nothing about laws until he/she is detained by the immigration authorities.
The "illegal" immigrant does not break the law purposefully. He/she is usually caught between a rock and a hard place. In order to survive, he/she is forced by circumstances to overstay a visa or enter through the backyard.
If given the opportunity, most every one of these "illegals" would choose to be legal. These "illegals" are hard-working people. They pay taxes (which are usually deducted by their employers, as with any other worker). They stay away from committing crimes and felonies. They actually behave like good citizens, even if they are unfairly treated, so as not to jeopardize their stay and their possibilities for a better life.
Any true Christian living in the 21st century needs to care about the problem of those who immigrate because of labor, especially the ones who are not treated with fairness and equality.
Opening our hearts and our homeland to people who are different will only enrich us and make us more humane.
Praying for the needy and supplying to the needs of the strangers will only make us more resembling of our God, who "maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor" (Ps 140:12).
Showing hospitality to strangers might even open up the possibility that we "entertain angels without knowing it." (Heb 13:2)
Essentially, as Christians, we need to be able to see the human side of this intricate problem of illegal immigration in the United States.
If we, as Christians, do not side with the poor and the stranger, we are cutting ourselves from the friendship of the One who taught us that "When I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink; when I was a stranger, you welcomed me."
Daniel Carro is professor of divinity at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va.