A bigger world than your screen

When I was in College, I spend my weekends tutoring Cambodian refugees/immigrants in Lowell Massachusetts. (It was the 1990s) Once the teachers asked a Cambodian teenager who he admired the most, I was surprised by his answer: “President Jimmy Carter”. When Carter was president, this teenager was too young to have any meaningful understanding of who Carter was. He then explained, “President Carter allowed my family to come to America.”

Allowing families from suffering parts of the world to come to America is a life changing humanitarian gesture that this nation is well known for. Immigrants are in general thankful. In this tradition, President Biden announced his plan for allowing (illegal) immigrants a path to citizenship over 8 years as a reversal of President Trump’s “anti-immigrant” policies.

As an immigrant myself, and having served among Cambodian immigrants, international students, Chinese immigrants, and inside Honduras, I believe I can give a more diverse point of view than a typical American Christian. I would like my Christian friends to lend theirs ears to a few of my stories.

There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. Roughly 1 million of them came from Honduras. Much of the discussion surround what happens at the US southern border. However, if you think that the problem begins at the southern border, you are hundreds of miles away from the root cause.

Honduras has a population of 9.7 million on paper, 1 million of whom are in the US. Any country losing 10% of its population, especially 10% of their most educated workforce, will quickly descend into chaos. Here is a true story: in a Honduras public school, there was a teacher who was drawing a salary for many years. But he never showed up in the classroom. His students never received the education they deserve. Eventually when the school was audited, they discovered the teacher driving a cab in Manhattan.

The mission organization that I serve runs a children center in southern (rural) part of Honduras. This is the picture in a typical Honduran village: there are no capable men. In the village, there are only women, old men, and children, lots of children. One of the churches I visited in a village of 200 population have 1 elderly man in his 70s as the pastor. 10 women as Sunday school teachers, and 80 children most of them younger than 10.

Average age of first pregnancy for a girl in rural Honduras is 14. Migrant workers come through the village during rainy season to work on farms, they get the local girls pregnant. They left for the cities once the farming season is over to look for jobs. So the poor girls are left behind with the children. The cycle repeats itself year after year, a girl may have 5 or 6 children, each of them by a different father, and none of the fathers stay to care for them.

Once they are in the cities, the men’s next stop would be heading to the US. Especially those who have the means to do so. Sometime the ticket to go the the US is the ability to speak English, but often it is through the drug trade that they punch their ticket north. Capable men run away from the country, the rest of the country, including the abandoned mothers and their children, are left behind in poverty.

The US immigration policy is spawning a humanitarian downward spiral. People migrate from Honduras to the US because the economy is bad. Those who are capable left, leaving the less capable behind. Economy get worse, more people want to leave.

Don’t forget the elephant in the room: DRUGS. The drug trade through the southern border destroys lives and family. The migration pattern and the drug trade are closely related and promote each other.

On to discussing another group of people whom I serve: Chinese immigrants. There are two groups of Chinese immigrants: professionals and grass-root workers. They practically live in two separate worlds, their paths seldom cross except for the former being served by the latter while eating or shopping at Chinatown.

Chinese professionals are concerned with limits in H-1B visas which they are competing over a limited quota against Indian and European professionals. Latin American immigrants at are not likely to be competing with Chinese professionals in terms of visa or jobs. However, since the total quota of immigrants per year is not likely to increase, allowing Latin American immigrants to get citizenship is going to make our H-1B professionals wait longer to get their green card/citizenship. My software engineer friend from India jokes that, at the current rate, he will become a US citizen when he turns 103.

Chinese immigrants who are grass-root workers faces direct competition for the limited government resources with Latin American immigrants. Affordable housing being the most critical. They also compete for low skilled jobs. In a time of economic boom, jobs are easier to find. In the current COVID climate, such competitions are less than friendly. I had a very well meaning coworker, a well-educated suburban professional, who was very surprised when I describe to her that the urban Chinese church that I served did not welcome the “immigrant friendly policies” of the Obama administration. After hearing my explanation, she just went, “Oh well, that make sense.”

At this point, you may ask “so what is your point, Kai?”. My point is, there are many many points instead of just “a point”. Americans are brainwashed to reduce every issue to one point – who should I vote for?

Ignorance is the worst form of discrimination. For anyone living in any urban centers in the USA, we have no excuse to not get to know the stories and the struggles of immigrants. We are practically next door neighbors (in my case, I literally have an immigrant family as my next door neighbor.) For most Americans, we intentionally decide to not care about our next door neighbors. Instead we prefer to pretend to care by keeping them as images on our screens.

The point I want to make is probably best told by a very well known story:

A scholar tried to trap Jesus.

Scholar: Teacher, what must I do to experience the eternal life?

Jesus (answering with a question):What is written in the Scriptures? How do you interpret their answer to your question?

Scholar:You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”—and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus:Perfect. Your answer is correct. Follow these commands and you will live.

The scholar was frustrated by this response because he was hoping to make himself appear smarter than Jesus.

Scholar: Ah, but who is my neighbor?

Jesus: This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night.

The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.”

Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?

Scholar: 37 The one who showed mercy to him.

Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan.

(from the Voice translation of the Bible)

Immigrants are our neighbors. Go and behave like that Samaritan.