The same week as our nation’s Independence Day holiday, several undocumented immigrants were fined for remaining in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) notified over a dozen people living in sanctuary that they owe hundreds of thousands of dollars for not leaving the country after receiving a deportation order. The fines are allowed under a section in the Immigration and Nationality Act from 1952. In 1952, fines were held to “not more than $500” for each day a person remained in the country. Adjusted for inflation, the amount is now $799 a day. The fines levied against these sanctuary leaders are hundreds of thousands of dollars, reaching nearly $500,000 in some cases. Not only are these fines impossibly high, they are the latest attempt to scare immigrants who are considering refuge in sanctuary. There may also be an implied threat that faith communities offering sanctuary will be fined.
Such fines would be appropriate if levied against undocumented persons who have committed serious crimes, but these fines are being charged to people who entered sanctuary to avoid separation from their families. Many of them have resided in the U.S. for over 15 years, working hard and paying taxes. They have made positive contributions to our communities.
In spite of this, ICE will seemingly stop at nothing to terrorize the immigrant community, even singling out the Sanctuary Movement. Many believe this latest assault is an attempt to discourage more people from entering sanctuary and to scare those already residing in sanctuary. The fines are having the opposite effect, strengthening the resolve of the sanctuary leaders to stay in this country and stay with their families. Faith communities are rallying to support them and are renewing their resolve to advocate on behalf of immigrants in the face of this new ICE scare tactic.
A nation that mints “In God We Trust” on every coin might consider paying closer attention to the command from God to care for immigrants laid out for us in the Exodus Covenant Code, among the oldest laws recorded in scripture. In this Code, God expects extraordinary protection for widows, orphans, and ger–often translated stranger, refugee, migrant, or immigrant. In particular the Code states: “You shall not wrong a stranger (ger) or oppress him, for you were strangers (gērîm) in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Because the Hebrews knew the yoke of oppression, a special indictment accompanies their mistreatment of strangers.
The only appropriate posture toward the ger is welcome. Not fines, but a pathway to citizenship. Not deportation, but access to a better life. Most of us–or our ancestors–were gērîm in the land of America. Today’s strangers deserve the same chance we got.
A Prayer for Immigrants by Justice for Immigrants
Our God, you have given us in your word the stories of persons who needed to leave their homelands—Abraham, Sarah, Ruth, Moses.
Help us to remember that when we speak of immigrants and refugees, we speak of Christ.
In the One who had no place to lay his head, and in the least of his brothers and sisters, you come to us again, a stranger seeking refuge.
We confess that we often turn away.
You have chosen that the life of Jesus be filled with events of unplanned travel and flight from enemies.
You have shown us through the modeling of Jesus how we are called to relate to persons from different nations and cultures.
You have called us to be teachers of your word.
We ask you, our God, to open our minds and hearts to the challenge and invitation to model your perfect example of love.