Daniel L. Stevenson, Jr.
In the introductory chapter to Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, & the Bible, M. Daniel Carroll R. provides a cursory overview of the current immigration issue at US-Mexico border. He investigates the convoluted landscape of the immigration crisis through its historical, political, and economic contours which are overlapping realities.
Hispanic immigration is not a new phenomenon. It has been a reality since the Treaty of Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, establishing the borders that exists today. This means that there has been a Hispanic presence in the United States (proper) for over 150 years. Despite this, the local and federal governments have sought to regulate immigration with irregularity. Immigration was originally handled by states until the Supreme Court deemed immigration a federal issue in 1875. Then, the Immigration Act of 1891 established the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration within the Treasury Department. In 1903 it was moved to the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration within the Treasury Department and again in 1913 to the Department of Commerce and Labor. In 1933 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was created then transferred to the Department of Justice in 1940 where it remained for some time. In 2003, INS was transferred to Department of Homeland Security and was combined with Inspection and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). Each moved signaled a shift of perception of the government and how it understood immigration.
Each of these moves were in reaction to a global economic reality. In the 1840’s the California Gold Rush brought with it a labor need. A solution was found in contracting workers from mainland China – recruiting firms were established in Asia in collaboration with the US government and businesses. But in 1852 California sought to block additional Chinese, Asian, and Pacific-Islander immigrants due to racial discrimination and biases. Even Chinese women were not permitted entry in order to avoid births of those within Chinese origins on US soil, in fear of the 14th amendment’s implications for citizenship. This eventually led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which barred future Chinese labor and denied Chinese most claims to citizenship. Chinese were not awarded the right to citizenship until 1943. It was not until 2011 the Senate even passed a resolution apologizing for Chinese discrimination policy. The exclusion of Chinese immigrants brought with it the need and arrival of Mexican workers. Large scale migrations also took place during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), with citizens fleeing to safety and World War I (1914-1917) and World War II (1939-1945) with the halt of European immigration.
In 1942, US-Mexican labor relations agreed on a bacero agreement, granting temporary work visas. However, the visas granted never satisfied the need for labor in America and overtime undocumented immigration grew. Later in 1954, the McCarthy scare prompted INS to launch “Operation Wetback” in California, Texas, and Arizona. Some estimate over 1 million people were deported. In 1965 the bracero program was shut down due to pressure from union and civil rights groups. That year the Hart-Cellar Immigration bill, capped entry into the United States at maximum 20,000. Overtime, the number of visas rose while restrictions grew tighter and tighter. Some states took extreme measures. Texas excluded Hispanic Children of undocumented parents from attending public schools until the Supreme Court overturned that law in 1982 with Plyer v. Doe. This law also provided amnesty to those who could prove that they had been in the US since 1982. The last major immigration act was in 1986, when Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act allowing unauthorized immigrants to apply for legal status. Three million apply for amnesty. However, most employees did not do their due diligence because they were either lazy or did not want to lose their cheap labor.
This cursory historical and political overview only allows us a glimpse at the complicated and inconsistent nature in which the American government has handled immigration. So if our own government has not even been able to effectively transverse this difficult issue consistently, should we rely on the government to supply us Anglicans with an answer?
I believe that as Anglicans we need to look at Carroll’s final topic, the Christian identity of Hispanic immigration. Carroll has called this mass immigration of Hispanic Christians into North America the “Browning” of Christianity:
The face of North American Catholicism is changing, and the church is growing. Masses in parishes around the country are burgeoning with recent arrivals from south of the border (a little more than two-thirds of first-generation Hispanic immigrants are Catholic). Estimates place the number of Hispanic Protestant congregations of all stripes in the United States in the many thousands. Mainline-denominations, but especially evangelical and Pentecostal denominations and independent groups, are seeing new churches sprout everywhere. These congregations meet in basements and fellowship halls of existing Anglo churches in storefronts, and in homes; some have acquired their own facilities (34-35)
Immigrants aren’t just filling in pews. They are bringing a reformation to the United States. Churches are popping up where there otherwise would be no churches. Immigrants are finding spiritual refuge often within themselves and the pastors who are among their numbers and within churches who embrace them as brothers and sisters. This immigration is not only having a positive effect on churches, but in terms of demographics, which causes us to reflect about our own identity.
The 2017 US Census Beureu reported the current US demographics as 60.7% White alone, 14.4% Black 18.1% Hispanic, and 5.8% Asian alone. These numbers continue to shift with the Hispanic immigration. Meanwhile, a 2015 Pew Research study found that the Anglican Church to be 83% White, 12% Black, 4% Hispanic, and less than 1% mix/other.
Let me put this thought out there.If we claim to be the Anglican Church of North America, then we ought to be an Anglican Church that looks like North America.
I do not say this for the sake of being relevant. I do not say this for the desire to be multicultural or multiethnic. I say this because as Anglicans we ought to take our baptism and the Eucharist as serious spiritual and bodily realities. At the border we are meeting our brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we share one baptism and partake in one supper, the Lord’s Supper. If we are to cause a schism over political ideologies, we are not partaking in the Lord’s Supper, but in our own (1 Cor 11:17-34). The realities of baptism and Eucharist transcend historical, political, and social realities, calling us to develop ecclesial solidarity. Borrowing the phrase from Michael Budde, does our baptism have borders?
Those seeking refuge are our brothers and sisters. If we were to receive them, care for them, and allow them to receive us and care for us, the Anglican Church in North America will hold fast to the ecclesial solidarity that Christ calls us to (John 13:35). Should we allow historical, political, and economic realities the override the reality of our sacramental ecclesiology?
Mexican-American Border. Image. https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/25/americas/us-mexico-border-before-trump-trnd/index.html. Accessed January 19, 2019.
Budde, Michael L. The Borders of Baptism: Identities, Allegiances, and the Church. Eugene: Cascade, 2011.
Carroll R, M. Daniel. Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, & the Bible. Grand Rapids: Brazo Press, 2014.
United States Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/AGE295217#A GE295217. Accessed 2 January 2019.
“The Most and Least Racially Diverse U.S. Religious Groups,” The Pew Forum, July 27, 2015, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/27/the-most-and-least-racially- diverse-u-s-religious-groups/ft_15-07-23_religiondiversityindex-1/. Accessed 2 January 2019.