Illegal Immigration and Pastoring
Updated: Mar 24, 2022
It is no secret that the topic of immigration can divide a room into two camps, even when everyone in that room is united in the belief of the Christian faith. Both groups can raise valid points and even Scripture verses to aid their cases. Today, I would like to stand in the middle of the room and affirm that it is possible to be compassionate, neighbor-loving, and law-abiding all at the same time.
My husband, Daniel Carrillo, my son, Josue Carrillo, and I have experienced the difficulties of immigration and having to leave the country multiple times to fulfill the requirements and respect the laws of the United States—a nation that we have come to love and appreciate. Someday we will share a testimony of our journey and the role that the Church and various friends had to play in our story.
In addition to my journey as an immigrant, my perspective is also colored by my own fifteen-year experience with the immigration system as a religious worker. I have pastored and started Hispanic churches with approximately 90% of the congregations being undocumented families from various communities.
In terms of the day-to-day pastoring or church planting, nothing was different from the more traditional American congregations. The community had the same issues as any other, and from afar it was as diverse as you can imagine. Family care involved visiting, marriage counseling, leadership training, social activities, discipleship, and all the other typical aspects of church life.
However, as we lived alongside our church family, my husband and I gained a better understanding of just how much illegal immigration affected their lives. We learned about their individual battles, the constant weight on their shoulders, and all the limitations that come with being undocumented. Every individual case was so different from the other. Some had reasons and others had excuses for being undocumented. Nonetheless, we were dealing with the humanity of each individual, and our job was to present the gospel without making any exceptions.
Many of the parishioners also witnessed our struggles and how difficult it was for our family to maintain a legal status. They saw the financial stress, the issue of having to leave the country, the constant uncertainty, and all the sacrifices that come with having to relocate and then wait to return.
But our struggle gave us credibility to speak with the love and compassion that comes from a shared experience. We were not only telling them about the gospel, we were showing them that the God we believe in will not abandon them, and that...
It is possible to walk in faith by obedience, even when it is not easy.
During this time many sermons included phrases like:
“The USA is not the promised land, and God will bless you anywhere in the world if you are obedient to Him.”
“The sun rises everywhere, and our call is to be a faithful blessing anywhere our feet are standing.”
“If the immigration process requires you to leave or you willingly decide to leave, you are now taking the Gospel with you wherever you go.”
These were bold statements when you consider the vast majority of the congregation was undocumented. Our family had to back up with actions all those statements and not just offer lip service. They knew we loved them, served them, and that we also struggled, but more than anything, they learned to trust the Lord in their new-found faith.
Illegal immigration was so normalized in most of the congregation that sometimes people would request prayer for a family member who was crossing the border illegally with a coyote. I would have to rephrase the request and pray for God’s providence and protection—trying not to encourage the illegal action itself.
Most Americans are likely not aware of this cultural insight, but many people, especially from Mexico, pray for protection to la Santa Muerte (“Our Lady of the Holy Death” or “Holy Death”), a female deity in Neopaganism and folk Catholicism who is believed to offer protection, healing, and safe passage to the afterlife. It is quite common for many criminals and even cartel members to pray to la Santa Muerte to protect them when they are about to commit a crime.
When you are raised in that environment and then come to know the Lord, it takes biblical discipleship to learn and accept that we cannot ask God to help us break the law.
What should the church do about illegal immigrants? My answer is love them, serve them, and get to know them at a personal level. If they ask for advice, advise them to do what the law requires.
Someone’s legal status should never prevent us from sharing the Gospel with them.
In fact, our call to holiness stipulates that we love the foreigners among us (Deuteronomy 10:19).
The law is not always fair. I know that firsthand. These issues of immigration are often complex and difficult, but we answer to a higher Lawmaker, and as believers, we have to trust God, even when we don’t understand.
Loving our neighbor is also leading our neighbor in a righteous path.
God will not fail anyone that decides to do good.
Honduras, the country I was born in, has strict immigration laws and enforces border security. Cuba, a country I had the pleasure of visiting, has extremely strict immigration agents. I was afraid they would not allow our family into the country, but after an interrogation, they allowed us entry. Guyana has tight security at their airport, and immigrating to Canada is not an easy task either.
All this to say, immigration is not a USA problem; it is a global issue. Borders are not new, and asking permission to get into any nation is practiced almost everywhere in the world. God Himself determines the boundaries of the nations (Acts 17:26). This concept, however, does not exempt us from the fact that we are called to love our neighbor. Love is kind and caring, seeking justice, truth, and righteousness.
Many immigrants flee because their lives are at risk due to violence, persecution, or extreme poverty, among other factors. They do it for the preservation of life, and I believe it is the duty of every nation to protect human life. However, the United States is not the only country accepting refugees and persons needing political asylum.
I know that many immigrate to the United States in hopes of achieving the “American Dream,” and I don’t blame them. This is a great nation to live in. At the same time, I think we can all agree that there is a great need for comprehensive immigration reform, and as Christians, we should advocate for better laws that will benefit immigrants seeking to assimilate and be productive members of the community.
Normalizing illegal immigration with open borders is unjust, and it leads to unjust employment wages and inhuman conditions—not to mention that it creates a second-class, oppressed community that many will unlawfully hire to avoid the responsibility of providing benefits. Luring illegal immigrants through open borders also profoundly damages the nations where the migrants come from, depleting those countries of their young people, their most capable working force, and their future hope of prosperity.
American citizenship does not equal salvation, and America is not perfect, although it is a great nation. The call to Christians all over the world is to share the gospel with every nation and tribe and to love God and neighbor—not to turn one nation into the savior of the world.