Love Thy Neighbor: The American Dream, Then and Now

Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World

By Marco Grimaldo

Pedro Hernandez came to the United States as a boy and worked with his family in the blazing hot fields of central and south Texas.  Later he worked in a factory for 35 years. With God’s help, hard work, and commitment, he achieved the American dream. He made a better life for his family. 

Pedro was my grandfather. He arrived 100 years ago, but the same dreams persist today for those who came to the U.S. as children without proper papers. The major difference is that in my grandfather’s time, immigration laws allowed him a chance at the American dream. On Sept. 5, the Trump administration took that dream away. It recently ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, started five years ago, and put 800,000 young people at risk of deportation.

Even before the announcement, the reaction from the public in general has been supportive of continuing the program. Last week, Dreamers of Virginia, a group of young people who have benefited from the DACA program, marched from Charlottesville, Virginia to Washington, D.C.  They joined other young people—also called Dreamers — and DACA advocates in holding a vigil at the White House.  Nationally, faith leaders, business executives, and university presidents joined Democratic and Republican members of Congress to protect DACA recipients from possible deportation. 

Increasingly, Americans agree that we need to fix our immigration laws to help these Dreamers and other migrants.  It’s the moral thing to do.  As Christians, we confess that however different we may be from one another, we are each created in the image of God.  Furthermore, we are united in common relationship to God through Jesus Christ.  All of us are of inherent value to God and deserving of respect.

The scriptures remind us to welcome the sojourner in our community (Leviticus 19:33-34) and to care for those without status like widows and orphans (Exodus 22:21-24). Jesus taught us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:25-37) and we are reminded to welcome one another as we are welcomed by Christ, for the glory of God.  (Romans 15:7).

Dreamers deserve our respect and they need our help.  Dreamers did not choose to be in the U.S. but they have chosen to stay and build their lives here.  They will contribute more than $400 billion over the next decade to the economy through the jobs they hold. Most pay their own way if they get into college.  Dreamers don’t qualify for most federal aid. The least we can do is help them earn their way to legal status in the U.S. 

Finally, as we see it, immigration is a hunger issue.  We know that undocumented immigrants work in jobs that pay less and they are more vulnerable to poverty.  They are more likely to be hungry and have less access to nutritious food. 

So, when asked the question, “who is my neighbor,” we must confess that our neighbors may well be immigrants.  They likely look different, sound different, and maybe even pray differently than we do but they are still our neighbors. In obedience to Jesus Christ we welcome them into our lives – just as the United States more than a century ago welcome my grandfather Pedro Hernandez.

Marco Grimaldo is senior associate for Latino engagement at Bread for the World. 

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