The Gospel tells Christians that giving food, drink, welcome, shelter, clothing, care, and accompaniment to strangers equates to feeding, quenching the thirst of, sheltering, clothing, caring for, and accompanying Jesus himself.[i] Jesus teaches us that these actions have eternal implications because they are God’s basic expectations for all human relationships.
And yet, the federal government in Tucson, Arizona is prosecuting humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren for providing food, water, shelter, rest, and orienting two men who had been in Arizona’s deadly desert for two days. Warren is charged with harboring and conspiring to transport undocumented migrants, felonies that carry decades of possible prison time. [ii]
On May 5, U. S. Customs and Border Protection Agents arrested, held, and continue to intimidate Ana Adlerstein for accompanying a Central American migrant into the Lukeville, Arizona border crossing after prearranging their appearance with the port of entry supervisor. Adlerstein was accused of “alien smuggling” although she has not been charged with a crime.[iii]
These are not isolated incidents. Similar arrests and intimidation of U.S. citizens living their faith’s values have been reported all along America’s southern border. Prosecutions for harboring undocumented migrants has risen from 3,461 to 4,532 in the last three years – a 30% increase. In an NPR interview Teresa Todd, a four-term city and county attorney in west Texas, framed the situation this way, "It makes people have to question, 'Can I be compassionate'?" Todd was arrested and continues to be harassed by federal and state law enforcement officials for giving a migrant shelter in her car until medical help could arrive. [iv]
Living our faith in relationship to our neighbors regardless of their citizenship should never be a crime. Preventing the deaths of people in the desert is what God asks of us. Law enforcement officials should never be permitted to arrest, harass, or intimidate people of faith for embodying the hospitality the Bible describes and to which Jesus enjoins us. People of faith should never be afraid to live compassionate lives. And yet those are the realities many people of faith in America’s border states experience every day. U. S. immigration policy should not make the desert a death sentence.
As a Christian leader I feel compelled to bring these assaults on our core value of compassion into the light. Silence as a faith leader in this moment surrenders our Constitutionally protected religious right to love our neighbors. Not only am I praying for change, I am working for it in the public square. I invite you to be present, speak truth to power, and take action with me to preserve our core values to feed, quench the thirst of, welcome, shelter, clothe, care for, and accompany our neighbors of every immigration and documentation status without fear of reprisals, prosecution, intimidation, or threats against our liberty from government authorities. May the Spirit of the Christ who calls us to love one another as we have been loved by God bolster our courage and strengthen our resolve to protect and preserve the dignity of every person created in God’s image, and to create the loving world Jesus envisioned.
– Rev. Dr. William Lyons, Conference Minister, Southwest Conference UCC
[i] Matthew 25:31-46
image credit: Dan Sorensen on flickr