Thi Mitsamphanh and Courtney Williams spoke on immigration in Luther Hall under the hall’s large wooden cross—Christianity rising up in the social sciences.
They spoke to Union students, teachers, alumni and members of the community about the importance of Christian work in refugee relief and immigration reform in a workshop on Thursday, April 7.
The talk was primarily based on immigration and the Christian’s appropriate response to the issues immigrants face in the United States.
Mitsamphanh works as a church mobilizer for World Relief, an international relief and development agency based in Maryland that works with local churches to help provide care for refugees and advocates for immigration reform.
Williams is an immigration specialist and an attorney who also works for World Relief.
Mitsamphanh passionately argued that Christians have a duty to care about immigration.
“A lot of times, when it comes to immigration, we think a lot more political than spiritual,” Mitsamphanh said.
He referenced verses from Deuteronomy, Psalms, Malachi, Exodus and Leviticus that deal with immigration.
“When we look into the scriptures, we see the scripture does say a lot…the idea of welcoming the stranger is an idea we see throughout,” Mitsamphanh said. “God is always reminding his people, ‘don’t forget where you come from.’ He reminds them, he commands them, to welcome and treat well the alien.”
Mitsamphanh further went through the Old Testament law to show how God legislated rules to protect immigrants and aliens, just as he did to protect other vulnerable groups like widows and orphans. Mitsamphanh frequently asked the audience questions, inviting them to join in to the discussion.
Immigrants are our neighbors, Mitsamphanh stressed as he cited the parable of the Good Samaritan.
“We are commanded to view immigrants themselves as our neighbors—with love,” Mitsamphanh said.
He then described how the United States is seeing a massive influx of immigrants from all over the world. Increased technology and a more connected world has caused many who are fleeing violence or strife to be able to seek refuge and a new home in the United States.
Christians, he said, should be excited about this. As the influx of immigrants increases, unsaved people are being brought to a place that is widely churched.
“God is doing something in bringing the nations to us,” Mitsamphanh said. “God uses migration for his redemptive purposes.”
Mitsamphanh bolstered this point by referencing his personal story. He experienced the immigration system firsthand. His family, originally from Laos, resettled as refugees in the United States when he was young. He said that the church responded and came alongside him and his family at the time, showing his family Christ-like love which drew them into the church and, eventually, Christianity.
Williams discussed more the numbers and legality of the immigration situation in the United States.
Immigrants do not have many ways to legally enter the country, Williams said. They can apply for a family visa if they have a family member in the United States, but she cited examples of how the process lasts around 13 years for a family member.
“It’s crazy that you have to wait that long,” Williams said.
Immigrants can enter on an employment visa, but most work visas are only given to high skilled laborers who have advanced degrees, Williams said. Refugees and asylum seekers can enter the United States under the law, but only certain numbers are allowed in, and the process is glacial.
“Only one percent of all refugees ever get resettled in a third country,” Mitsamphanh said.
Finally, Williams said that immigrants can enter with special laws, like the diversity visa lottery, which is a random system.
“There is no line for people to get into,” Williams said.
She stressed this process keeps many from entering the United States. These four slow ways to enter lead to many problems in the immigration system.
“There’s a huge problem right now with children coming into the United States…to escape the violence back home,” Williams said.
Undocumented immigration is a civil violation, not a criminal one, Williams said, comparing it to running a red light. The consequences for this violation, however, are severe. If you are deported, you cannot return to the United States.
She also mentioned that often, families are split apart by deportation.
Williams argued that the church should aid and help immigrants without trying to check up on their immigration documentation.
“You don’t have to ask someone what their immigration status is,” Williams said. “That’s not something that should stop the church from serving.”
Christians should not tell undocumented workers to leave the country and enter legally, she said. While this seems like a reasonable solution, if they leave, they will be barred from entering the country for probably 10 years, Williams said. Christians should refer undocumented workers to a qualified professional.
But for many of these immigrants, there is no legal recourse.
“Unless the immigration laws change, they will always be an undocumented immigrant,” Williams said.
Williams also said Christians should be dedicated in praying for immigrants and reading scripture.
In addition to these spiritual disciplines, Williams said Christians can advocate for immigration reform, partner with World Relief or other aid organizations and assist immigrant families who have a hard time acclimating to the culture of the United States.
“If you know a family, you can just love on the family,” Williams said.