After three summers of working with Somali refugees in Malta, I have seen the dysfunction and opportunity of immigration. I have seen the joys for those who walk through the process and the anguish of those who are stuck in the midst of the bureaucratic processing. My context was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic, I’ve had the privilege of taking students to minister to North African Muslims, migrants from Somalia, Eritrea, Ghana, Chad and Ethiopia, Nigeria and Libya. All were affected by the Arab Spring of 2010 and detained in Malta’s refugee centers throughout the island — essentially known to us as, ‘Prisoners of Hope.’
Throughout the world people are fleeing countries due to political, social and economic struggles. In a global society with differing cultures, religions and governments, the only constant is instability. For this reason, it is easy to understand why migration is complicated. Not only does migration present challenges on those who are displaced, but it also poses unique and daunting demands for those absorbing these men, women and children.
Media’s attempts to present the face of immigration by bombarding us with children sleeping on the floor in cells, focusing on the budgetary impacts, and presenting “talking points” about how governments and non-government organizations could and should address the problem isn’t helping. Up until this point, the president and the Congress have been inept on the issue. As a U.S. citizen, I have been slow to speak as I am not an expert on the subject. Yet as a professor who studied Christian ethics, my summer experiences in Maltese refugee camps have given me some rare perspective and application on those seeking asylum.
Migration starts with a dream tied to economics
To deny this and say its wrong would be foolish. Even Joseph’s brother “sold” him into slavery knowing they could make something out of a bad situation (Genesis 37). Migration has historically been tied to money or the necessary supply of survival. Waves of immigrants paid or even sold themselves into indentured servitude to come to America. They came because things were often worse where they lived. Maybe it was strife, war, amine or just the dream of a better life for them and their children. All of these reasons explain why people come. But do they justify why the United States should accept them?
In our modern context, the question of why they are coming is moot. I have traveled many places in the world and understand the United States to be as both presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan described, “a city on a hill.” Yet, the bigger question to be answered revolves around “who” is fostering migration. Other than the immigrant, “who” actually stands to make the most profit from mobilized men, women and children? There is only one simple answer.
Migration is fostered under a communication gap
Therefore, it is the responsibility of the United States government and media to shore up the communication gap. We can’t fault people who want a better life. We just need to make it clear hat if they come, they will be turned away unless they follow the procedures established by government. I have interviewed numerous men and women in refugee camps and heard the same heartbreaking stories. Each of them started their journey because of a conversation and the promise of a job. By selling everything they owned, they found a courier to deliver them to the host nation. The price is always different but the lie is the same. These couriers make a great deal of money promising “You’ll be in Europe in one week” only to find out later that it takes months to arrive through some of the most torturous conditions imaginable. Surrounded by death, rape and extortion, these beautiful people are shuffled from one courier to another living in the underworld of human trafficking. At every point on the journey to the “promised land” there is a subsequent lie to keep the money flow consistent for the traffickers. If we’re going to be honest, the courier stands the most to gain from this form of human trafficking and will continue to trade until the money is no longer there.
Migration slows when the streams are diverted
The thousands of kids at the border of the United States is just a symptom of a deeper dilemma. There needs to be a comprehensive package that addresses not only the children but also the foul stench of the couriers’ slave trade playing out before our very eyes. Sir William Wilberforce, the great Christian Abolitionist delivered a speech to the London House of Commons in 1789 and his quote still rings true today. He stated, “The nature and all the circumstances of this [slave] trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we can not evade it. It is now an object placed before us; we cannot pass it; we may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we can not turn aside so as to avoid seeing it, for it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide.”
The slave trade has been brought to the United States in the form of children. Our government needs to make some serious political decisions. As Christians and citizens, its time to vote elected officials who are interested in fixing the problem.
There is no one solution for the millions of people migrating to the United States illegally, nor does this article attempt to address them. A concerted effort to divert the stream of human trafficking is all I am attempting to accomplish. The United States as a sovereign nation must secure its borders and begin a mass campaign of communication throughout Mexico, Central and South America. The president and the Congress working with the states must recognize the benefit of persuading families not to come for fear of denial. This will begin to dry up the monetary streams as people forsake the journey thus making it less profitable for those who human traffic. Subsequently the United States will be upholding laws, which do not tolerate slavery as a trade.
Nathan McConnell is the pastor of Lakeside Presbyterian in West Palm Beach and faculty member in Christian Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He holds a postgraduate degree in practical theology and ethics with an emphasis in Missions from King’s College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and can be reached at [email protected].