National Migration Week is sandwiched between Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Jan. 11 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 16.
Each has a different focus. All share a common moral concern – caring for the stranger and the weak, pursuing social justice, practicing kindness.
All are bound together theologically by the concept of “imago dei,” the idea that all human beings are created in the image of God.
National Migration Week is an annual observance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was begun 25 years ago.
“While the observance is only a week long, it is a vital time to show welcome, compassion and solidarity with our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas. It “is an excellent opportunity to highlight biblical tradition and our mission to welcome the newcomer.”
The theme this year is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.”
“Culture of encounter” is Pope Francis’ “signature phrase,” according to John Allen, a longtime Catholic commentator. “Encounter” underscores compassion over judgment.
EthicsDaily.com recommended the “culture of encounter” as the Baptist watchword for 2014.
As people of faith in January, the “culture of encounter” has two issues knotted together – migration and human trafficking.
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, we are experiencing the highest displacement of people in history. Some 65 million have been forced out of their homes. Some 21 million of these people are refugees. More than 50 percent of the refugees are under 18 years of age.
Under 18 years of age means children; children are prime targets for sex-slavery.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that vulnerable people are victims to human trafficking. “The victims pay to be illegally transported into the United States only to find themselves in the thrall of traffickers. They are forced into prostitution, involuntary labor and other forms of servitude to repay debts – often incurred during entry into the United States.”
Many of the victims are children, who, according to ICE, “find themselves surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and language without identification documents, fearing for their lives and the lives of their families.”
To address responsibly immigration means to address human trafficking.
While Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings on human trafficking and the undocumented are hard to find, his moral vision would encompass freedom for modern-day sex slaves and care for the undocumented.
He challenged the nation to create a “beloved community,” one where justice and equal opportunity prevailed.
Of course, he was speaking against the backdrop of slavery and segregation with its violence and economic exploitation – dynamics for the undocumented and trafficked human beings.
Human Awareness Trafficking Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and National Migration Week are excellent opportunities to renew our biblical understanding of the kind of community Jesus envisioned.
These observances are rich opportunities for churches to raise the level of awareness, provide education and call for action.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook. Order his new book, “The Disturbances.” It is available as either a paperback or an e-book.