How to End the Polarization of Immigration

Three steps that will bring us closer to ushering in justice for undocumented immigrants.

I live in south Texas, on a corridor for human trafficking several hours north of the Mexico-United States border. For years, we have heard stories about the inhumane funneling of undocumented immigrants — not to mention drugs — into and through our community.

These stories have a lasting impact. Our community still remembers the horror of the 19 immigrants who died in an abandoned tractor trailer that they’d hoped would provide their passage to new life. Instead, it became a trap that suffocated them in the summer heat. Among them was a five-year-old boy, who died in his father’s arms.

How desperate are families to flee the poverty and violence of their native countries that they would abandon everything and travel treacherous miles for a glimmer of hope?

Sadly, the truth is that greedy “coyotes” seek to profit from that desperation. Gangs and criminals have made an enterprise of transporting immigrants (and drugs) into the United States.

And our broken immigration system only adds to the problem.

border picture
Memorial at the Mexico-United States border. Courtesy of the author.

In August, I went to the border — to listen and learn, but also to pray that God would give us a vision of the church’s role to play in the crisis of unaccompanied migrant children coming to our borders.

I came away from that experience with more questions than answers, more heartache than solace. But I was struck by the way Americans tend to see immigration from one extreme side of the spectrum or the other.

In my town of Victoria, people I know and love respond to the criminal activity spawned by our current immigration system by firmly saying, “Close the borders.” Still others see the desperate families and respond, “Help the hurting.”

The polarization of this issue is overwhelming — and it’s a problem. 

From my experience working with victims and offenders of violent crimes, I’ve learned three ways to stop polarization that we can apply to the issue of immigration and unaccompanied migrant children.

The first is to seek truth; the second to speak love.

I once witnessed the mother of a murdered child and the murderer sit face to face and share their reality about the murder with each other. The mother told a story saturated with sorrow of tragic loss. The murderer provided his insight into the night of death. Together, the two stories were horrifically ugly — but in that ugliness, the beauty of complete truth emerged.

The simple act of speaking to and hearing from someone we considered an enemy, and coming at it from a place of mutual respect, is speaking love.

Justice is ushered in when seeking truth and speaking love converge in the same moment.

No two people could be more diametrically opposed than the murderer and the mother of the child who was murdered. Yet when they came together, whether they intended to or not, they demonstrated the third way to stop polarization: ushering in justice. Justice is ushered in when seeking truth and speaking love converge in the same moment.

When we relinquish the hold on our sacred stories of profound suffering we demonstrate love and sacrifice on a deeply personal level. If we are open to the possibility that another person can add to those stories, we can begin the process of moving toward each other. We begin eliminating polarization when we come to a place where our stories merge into that greater truth.

We must be willing to seek truth from those who appear to be on the opposite side of the issue — in this case, immigration. In listening to why the “other” holds his position and being open to allowing our views to come together, we can find solutions that no one has considered before. And those solutions have the potential to be far more comprehensive.

If friend and foe, enemy and ally, good guys and bad guys come together seeking truth, and speaking love, we may just find ourselves in a place where we usher in justice and evil is thwarted by unity.

And maybe, just maybe, five-year-old boys don’t have to die in sweltering tombs and can instead go home with their families.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Cheryl Miller
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