Citizens of Nowhere

You shall not oppress an immigrant. You know the heart of an immigrant, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

These words to God’s people Israel, spoken from Mount Sinai at the very same time Moses received the Ten Commandments from the Lord, have fallen on the deaf ears of many of God’s people in America today.  We act as if we have done something to deserve the status that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America.  When in fact, the vastest majority of us never did anything to deserve our legal standing as citizens.  We were just born here.

We are taught to look down on those who are different than us, especially “illegal” immigrants.  We have begun looking at them as “those people,” as if we are somehow different from them in a way that makes us superior to them.  This is not true in the eyes of God or in reality.  Yet another misconception that has been blown out of my mind in my time in Tijuana is that my story really isn’t any different from the story of many men in the mission because they were born here too.

When I say they were born here, I mean in the United States.  Yes, that’s right, many of the people the INS are deporting were born in the United States of America.

One such man is named Matt.  He was born in Southern California to “illegal” immigrants who were too scared of the authorities to have him in the hospital.  So instead, his mother delivered him at home.  This means that there is no paper work to document his American birth or his eligibility for US citizenship.

Matt grew up, went to school, married a woman and had three children.  He earned a decent living in construction, even making ends meet through the housing collapse.  Even though he was born here, worked hard, and has never been in trouble with the law, he was deported.


About 1,200 immigrants receive a free meal at this soup kitchen every day. Many of the men who stay at the mission walk three hours each way for lunch.

He was deported because he was driving his motorcycle with a burned out light, got pulled over and had no driver’s license.  The police arrested him on the spot and in less than a week he was deported to Mexico.  But the catch is, Matt isn’t a citizen of Mexico either.  He is literally a citizen of nowhere.

As a citizen of nowhere he has no rights in the US or Mexico or anywhere else.  He’s stuck.  He’s the victim of a system that thirty years ago welcomed migrants.  Now we can’t get rid of them quickly enough.  What did Matt do to deserve this?

You shall not oppress an immigrant. You know the heart of an immigrant, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

God told His people Israel not to oppress immigrants before they even entered the Promised Land because he knew that as soon as they got settled and took ownership of the Promised Land that their hearts would change.  He knew that as long as they were the immigrant, they would demand respect and justice for immigrants.  But once settled, immigrants could be considered a threat.  They would be taken advantage of because they had no rights unless He granted them.  And so, God granted immigrants the same rights as citizens in Israel.

Now, I don’t think that in our context that it would be wise to grant everybody who wants into our country or everybody who wants to stay in our country blanket amnesty.  We have to be responsible about who is allowed to enter our country and who can stay.  Instead of kicking everybody out or allowing everybody in, we should find a reasonable compromise that allows responsible people in or to stay, while those who are grossly irresponsible are returned to their native land or otherwise dealt with.

Care for the most vulnerable in society, including immigrants gets right to the heart of the Lord.  In the law, we see something deeper than a list of rights and wrongs as God’s people.  We see who we were created to be in light of the perfect love we have first received from God.

Granted, no one besides Jesus will ever be able to keep the law perfectly, but the law nonetheless tells us who we are as God’s people.  It tells us what is in line and out of line for us.  That line is not set by politicians or borders or preconceived notions.  It is a line that has been drawn hard and fast by God.

According to God, everyone for whom Christ died deserves equal treatment under the law.  This means that spiritually and politically speaking all are created equal and deserve equal treatment.  We as the people of God, who enjoy true spiritual freedom in Christ through the forgiveness of sins, should be seeking equity for all under the laws of this land as an expression of the freedom we have in Christ.

We are not ever told what those laws need to be or how they are to be brought into existence.  We have the freedom to work that out amongst ourselves. But we are called to ensure the fair treatment of all people.

The struggle and yearning for freedom is great preparation for the next life.  Those who don’t enjoy equality long for the day they will have she same rights as everybody else forever.  We who have freedom and use our freedom to secure the freedom for others grow in the likeness of Christ.

We citizens of heaven can be a blessing to citizens of nowhere by speaking up for their rights.  When we do, we offer hope to others that gives them a tiny glimpse of the hope we have in Christ.  When we live as the blessed and as a blessing, everybody enjoys a greater measure of the freedom God has created us to have.  Living under the cross, we are prepared to live in glory.

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