When it comes to immigrants, the Bible is not silent about God’s justice for them. The Hebrew word for justice, mishpat, occurs in the Old Testament more than 200 times. Its most basic meaning is to acquit or punish each person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status.
However, mishpat does not just mean the punishment of wrongdoing, but also protection or care. In other words, mishpat means giving every person what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.
Deuteronomy 10:18 says: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” The word justice here is mishpat, and it’s Moses’ way of describing God’s character to the Israelites, a character that executes mishpat by protecting, caring, and defending the fatherless, widow, and immigrant.
Time and time again, when the Biblical writers introduce God, they introduce Him as protector and defender of the marginalized in society, including immigrants, documented and undocumented.
In Memphis, there have been recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on apartment complexes where Latino residents live. Instead of feeling protected, they have felt fearful for their lives. But God is their protector and defender and He wants them to know this.
When people ask me, “How do you want to be introduced?” I propose they say, “This is Rondell Treviño, on staff at Woodland Presbyterian Church, immigration advocate, who has an M.DIV. from Capital Seminary,” because this is what I want people to know about me.
Likewise, God being described as taking up protection, care, and defending immigrants in the Old Testament is His way of telling everyone this is one of the main things He does in the world: He lives out justice (mishpat) for immigrants by protecting and caring for them daily. So should we.
One of the markers of being a Christian is how we protect and care for all immigrants, documented and undocumented.
The problem is many Christians understand mishpat as only punishment towards immigrants, especially toward those who are undocumented.
One reason why Christians understand Biblical justice as solely punishment for immigrants is because they read the Bible selectively. But we are called to view the Bible entirely, thus enabling us to understand the entire definition of Biblical justice.
Punishment is due some immigrants who are considered horrific criminals, such as drug traffickers, sex traffickers, and violent gang members. But what many Christians fail to realize is the majority of immigrants are productive, peaceful and gente muy amable (very kind people in Spanish) who deserve protection and care from the injustice going on in Memphis.
In recent weeks, Hispanic immigrants in Memphis have felt fear like never before. ICE agents have ramped up arrests, detaining immigrants who live productive and peaceful lives.
If this were not enough, a recent Facebook video showed a fake bail bondsman asking immigrants for their green cards and proof of immigration status. (Editor’s note: On July 28, Memphis police arrested Daquawn Simmons, the man they believe was harassing immigrants. ICE officials have said that Simmons was not affiliated with their department in any way.)
For ICE agents to arrest immigrants who are productive and peaceful is injustice. As a Christian and immigration advocate, I cannot stand by and ignore this.
When we truly understand Biblical justice, we will show Memphis that immigrants are people to love, not problems to solve. This is what God wants. This is what we should want.
I am called to live out mishpat by protecting and caring for immigrants. So should every other Christian.
Where Do We Go From Here?
How do I live out Biblical justice for immigrants?
1. Pray. Everyday I carve out time to pray that God would protect and watch over immigrants. I pray that He will compel Christians to pursue justice on their behalf. Christians should be doing the same thing.
2. Relocation. This is a concept that has been encouraged by Dr. John Perkins, a longtime civil rights activist. He stresses that in order to live out justice for the marginalized, we must relocate by living among the marginalized. My wife and I strategically live in the Berclair community, where the majority of Memphis’ Latino immigrants live. By joining the community, the community’s needs have become our own. Living among our immigrant brothers and sisters has enabled us to see them as humans made in God’s image just like us. This is vitally important to consider if we are to help bring positive change to immigrant communities.
3. Speak up. Use my social media and relationships with others as a way to speak up for immigrants when it comes to immigration reform, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), unaccompanied minors, and educating churches and organizations on a plethora of immigration issues. The church in Memphis has the opportunity to speak up not only through social media, but through advocating for legislative change that passes fair policies for immigrants.
The biggest reason there have been unjust (ICE) raids, no way for undocumented immigrants to get right with the law and earn legalized status, and a vulnerable Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on the brink of being repealed is because the current immigration system is broken.
The church has an opportunity to use its voice to speak up for immigration reform that respects the God-given dignity of every person, protects the unity of the immediate family, respects the rule of law, guarantees secure national borders, ensures fairness to taxpayers, and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.
Some ways to do this include meeting with local officials in Memphis, state officials in Nashville and congressional representatives in Washington on the need for immigration reform.
Everyone in Memphis, especially in the faith community, has a voice and must use it to speak up for immigrants not because we feel like it, but because God commands us to do so.
Rondell Treviño is on staff at Woodland Presbyterian Church, and founder/director of Memphis Immigration Project. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical studies at Belhaven University in July 2014 and a Master of divinity from Capital Seminary in August 2016. Treviño speaks on immigration from a Biblical perspective throughout the Southeast.
Before becoming a pastor, he worked as a Southeast church mobilizer for the Evangelical Immigration Table in 2016 where he trained churches on immigration issues and met with legislators in Washington about immigration reform. Treviño is married to the love of his life, Laura Sofia Treviño.
Other things you can do:
- Support Latino Memphis’ Derechos (Rights) program.
- Print your own “Know Your Rights” cards. Here’s a form from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
- Dispel the myths about immigration. Did you know that the country with the most visitors who stay longer than authorized is Canada? You do now. Read more here.
- Know what your rights are if immigration agents are at your door. Below are short videos produced by the ACLU in Spanish and in English.
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