“Let the Children Come to Me” vs. Nativism

American soccer fans couldn’t help but cringe when the US Men’s National Soccer Team was defeated by Belgium last week and was sent back home from Brazil. A part of me was secretly hoping that this would be a historic World Cup in which the US would go farther than it ever had before in a World Cup, maybe even winning the championship.

And yet this was not the only important skirmish our country was facing on that Tuesday. Another skirmish was taking place in the small town of Murrieta, outside of San Diego, foreshadowing a looming social war in our country that will determine not just our country’s immediate future in regards to immigration, but more importantly whether we will continue to uphold the traditional American values that have meant so much to our country’s history.

On this day, hundreds of protesters met in Murrieta to stop a bus load of immigrant children who were coming from Texas in order to get processed in a facility in California. The White House estimates that upwards of 90,000 immigrant children, mostly traveling alone, will enter our country without proper documentation before the end of the year. Chanting “No more illegals” and expressing the fears that “They will take our jobs,” these protesters—many of whom were Tea Partiers and minutemen—made children (some as young as 4) feel like criminals for doing something that their parents hoped would give them escape the dreadful violence that threatened them in their home countries.

Now that we have just celebrated the national independence of our country, it seems like a good time to reflect on this skirmish and the choice it presents for our country. For we can choose to uphold the traditional Christian value of compassion and generosity that our country has upheld at its best moments, or we can choose to opt for the values of fear and nativism displayed in the darkest periods of our nation’s history.

We can either welcome these children with open arms or we can reject them by deporting them and condemning them to inevitable suffering and possibly death.

I humbly contend that the rejection espoused by the anti-immigrant protesters at Murrieta is both un-American and utterly un-Christian.

When one reads over the stories of our American heroes in World War II, the Freedom Riders who risked their lives to confront the evil of segregation, or countless other stories of American heroism, it becomes clear that compassion and care for those most in need is as American as apple pie. It is America at its finest.

Jesus himself, whom many of the protesters claim as their Lord and Savior and spend Sundays praising and worshiping, is pretty clear about how children should be treated. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these.” In rejecting these children, protesters and any who are like-minded are failing to see that their faith is intertwined with compassion for those most in need, including migrants. There can be no compassion in this rejection, and it is quite honestly embarrassing to see Christians embracing this type of nativism.

On top of being both un-American and un-Christian, this type of nativist rhetoric also denies our country’s rich immigrant history. In rejecting immigrants today we reject the legacy of our immigrant forefathers and ignore the true causes of our country’s greatness. Our nation’s diversity has long been a source of strength and has helped the United States to serve as a symbol of hope.

I pray that just as we saw fireworks filling our skies on the fourth of July and took pride once more in how far we have come as a country, our hearts might also expand to take into consideration the lives of the thousands of immigrant children who wait anxiously with tired eyes and backpacks full of dreams for the day when the beacon held by lady liberty will shine brightly once again. For these children, willing to walk hundreds of miles and encounter countless obstacles, still believe in the best of what the United States can be. But it remains to be seen whether we will choose to espouse the ideals of opportunity and care or whether we will succumb to the voices in the shadows pushing us into the dark crevices of fear.

Carlos Rodriguez is a devout Catholic in his mid-twenties trying to make sense of his faith and his desire for more justice, especially for urban communities around the world.